Thousands were expected to gather Saturday evening in Tel Aviv to demonstrate in support of a new law to mandate universal conscription to the military.
The rally at the “Suckers’ tent” in Tel Aviv was organized by reservists who are demanding that all sectors of society share equally in the burden of defending the state. Protesters were to gather at 8:30 p.m. outside Tel Aviv’s central train station and march to the Tel Aviv Art Museum.
Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin was invited to speak at the demonstration, and was expected to severely criticize the handling by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak of the enlistment issue.
“Suckers are not those who serve their country,” he said. “Suckers are those who do not understand the true power of the public over their elected officials.”
Vice Prime Minister and Kadima party Chairman Shaul Mofaz on Friday announced he would participate in the protest. “IDF servicemen and servicewomen are the flesh of my flesh,” he said. “I call on all Israeli citizens to come and take part in the struggle. Together we will bring about change.”
Earlier this week, Mofaz threatened that Kadima would leave the coalition if does not support legislation based on the Plesner committee’s recommendations for universal service, which include drafting ultra-Orthodox men at the age of 22, allowing 1,500 annual exemptions for outstanding Torah scholars, and levying personal sanctions on those who refuse either to enlist in the military or perform some sort of national service.
Several Kadima MKs, so dissatisfied with the current state of negotiations over a new universal conscription law, will attend Saturday’s demonstration to demand that the government adopt the recommendations of the Plesner committee.
Protest organizers praised Mofaz’s announced attendance, but warned they are won over by statements, not deeds. “If you don’t just show up for a photo-op, and don’t flip-flop on the issue, we will respect the move,” one of the organizers said. They nonetheless made clear that neither Mofaz, nor any other Israeli politician, would be permitted to speak at the event.
Parents of fallen soldiers were also scheduled to attend the protest, highlighting the dissonance between their sacrifice and the benefits received by ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students who get draft deferments and exemptions.