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After Knesset panel implodes, Netanyahu and Mofaz to meet Friday to work on national service law

Yisrael Beytenu vows to submit its own legislation, having quit multi-party committee amid dispute over ‘special treatment’ for Israeli Arab draft-dodgers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman pictured in the Knesset in 2011 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman pictured in the Knesset in 2011 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet Friday with Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz to discuss legislation on national service for all, after the Knesset committee drawing up recommendations on the issue imploded on Thursday.

The two leaders will attempt to work toward an agreement on terms for ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arab service, and draw up legislation that their respective Likud and Kadima parties will support, ensuring it can gain a Knesset majority.

Netanyahu had earlier indicated his empathy for Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, which quit the Knesset panel devoted to drafting a new national service law because its proposals would not have punished individual Israeli Arab draft dodgers. The Jewish Home party also quit the panel.

“I will not advance any bill in the Knesset that doesn’t fulfill the principle of equality — for the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs alike,” Netanyahu said, shortly after Yisrael Beytenu and the Jewish Home party bolted the Committee for the Advancement of an Equal Burden, which was set up to draft a replacement for the Tal Law, struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year. The committee was seeking to come up with a solution for sweeping draft deferments among Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox.

Netanyahu telephoned several Arab Knesset members and told them that “the reality has changed. Arab citizens must shoulder the burden along with the ultra-Orthodox.”

In a thinly veiled criticism of the recommendations that were presented earlier on Thursday by committee head Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), Netanyahu said, “It’s a matter of principle, and I oppose exempting either [Arabs or ultra-Orthodox Jews from national service].”

“There is new reality in Israel.” Netanyahu added, “and everybody has to shoulder in the burden.”

Yisrael Beytenu and the Jewish Home party left the committee earlier Thursday following Plesner’s announcement of the committee’s intention to grant Arab Israelis who avoid national service a sweeping exemption from the personal sanctions that would be leveled on ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers.

A statement from Yisrael Beytenu decried the decision of the committee to “grant special treatment to the Arab-Israeli community and award it with an exemption from national service.” The party also announced that it planned to submit a bill of its own, countering the Committee’s proposed legislation, that would “mandate an equal share of the burden among all segments of society.”

Netanyahu and Mofaz will reportedly seek to formulate legislation of their own, without Yisrael Beytenu’s input.

Representatives of the committee, for their part, slammed Yisrael Beytenu, calling its decision to bolt the panel “the populist maneuver of a party that’s good at preaching an equal share in the burden but has no real intention of advancing initiatives to promote [such equality].”

“Today the committee adopted as a national priority the principle of service for all Israeli citizens,” the committee said in a statement. “Yisrael Beytenu has opted to foment discord instead of persisting in the joint work that will bring about the inclusion of tens of thousands of Israeli citizens in serving. It’s a shame that political interests have superseded any sense of responsibility, making it difficult to take advantage of this historic opportunity to implement a comprehensive, balanced solution and effect real change.”

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