Ministers fail to push through universal conscription measures

Ministers fail to push through universal conscription measures

Legislation calling for equal service for all and sanctions against those who opt out is halted by Shas appeal

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

David Rotem (right) speaks to Isaac Herzog at the Knesset on Monday morning (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
David Rotem (right) speaks to Isaac Herzog at the Knesset on Monday morning (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Two bills calling for national service by all citizens were passed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Monday, only to be shelved after a challenge by the Shas party before the Knesset could vote on them.

“No service, no benefits,” was the essence of a Yisrael Beytenu proposal to replace the Tal Law, which allowed for wide-scale ultra-Orthodox deferments and is set to expire this summer.

A bill by MK Einat Wilf (Independence party) called for equal service for all Israelis.

According to Yisrael Beytenu’s suggested legislation, all Israeli citizens would serve the country, either in the military or in civilian alternatives, and those who don’t serve will not be eligible to receive financial aid from the state’s welfare systems.

MK David Rotem said the proposed economic sanctions would keep those who don’t contribute to the state from benefiting from it in the manner of leeches.

Alternatives to military service weren’t specified, but a framework for civilian service was laid out. Those who didn’t serve in the army would serve for two years in local or government institutions that serve the public, such as hospitals and police and fire departments.

A second bill was brought forward by Wilf, with the purpose of “acting toward the equal distribution of military and civilian service throughout society.”

Both Rotem and Wilf were careful not to sound as though their proposed laws targeted one sector within society, and both stressed that the bills were addressed to all Israelis — regardless of sex, ethnicity or religion.

Minister without portfolio Meshulam Nahari (Shas) appealed the ministerial move to forward the proposals, calling it “populism,” and turning the matter over to the broader government. It is unclear when the bills would be discussed, since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for September 4 elections and the Knesset was set to be dissolved within days.

Four ministers voted against the proposed laws: Nahari, Daniel Hershkowitz, Benny Begin and Ya’akov Margi.

Hershkowitz said that anyone who is capable of serving in the army must do so, and whoever can’t serve should be encouraged to volunteer, but that he “doesn’t believe in forcing people to volunteer.”

Speaking in the Knesset Finance Committee, which he heads, MK Moshe Gafni lashed out at the government’s attempts to replace the Tal Law, saying there were more pressing things on the agenda.

“You only have haredim on the mind,” he said. “There’s violence, kids are being killed, but for you it’s only the Tal Law. We’re sick of you.”

The Tal Law was declared unconstitutional by the High Court in February, voiding any chance of extending the 10-year-old measure, which gave ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students a deferment from army service.

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