Netanyahu aims for ultra-Orthodox, Arab inclusion in mandatory service

Following publication of Plesner committee’s recommendations, prime minister intends to meet with Shaul Mofaz on Thursday

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that he aims to have any universal conscription bill mandate Arab and ultra-Orthodox participation in national and military service.

The prime minister announced plans to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz on Thursday to discuss the issue of universal service and will also meet separately with his coalition partners.

Speaking in reaction to the publication of the Plesner committee’s recommendations regarding a replacement for the soon-to-expire Tal Law, Netanyahu said that “the ultra-Orthodox must integrate in military service, and Arab Israelis must integrate in national service, too.”

The so-called Tal Law was struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year. For ten years, the legislation had provided a virtual exemption from military or national service for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

“The recommendations [of the Plesner committee] included important principles,” Netanyahu added. “My intention is to put forward a bill that includes Arabs and ultra-Orthodox [Israelis], which will win a majority in the Knesset and can be put into practice.”

“We are facing an historic change in Israeli society,” Netanyahu said. “The status quo can’t continue.”

Netanyahu’s comments came a full eight hours after an angry Mofaz had called a press conference accusing the prime minister of breaching coalition agreements by unilaterally dismantling the Plesner committee on Monday. Mofaz demanded that Netanyahu accept the recommendations of the defunct committee, which had been presented by its chairman, Yohanan Plesner, earlier Wednesday. Mofaz said the fate of the coalition was hanging in the balance, that “the ball is in the prime minister’s court,” and that Netanyahu would have to make up his mind in “a matter of days.”

Mofaz responded Wednesday evening to the prime minister’s statement saying that “now is the time for actions, not statements. For decisions not deceptions.”

“The prime minister’s statement evades the paramount challenge of fixing the illegality and injustice of granting a sweeping exemption to the ultra-Orthodox population,” Mofaz said. “The citizens of Israel expected clear statements by the prime minister. The servicemen and servicewomen expected a decision worthy of a leader, and historic and effective justice — but it appears as though they won’t receive it.”

The key recommendations included military service of 24 months or national service of 18 months for ultra-Orthodox conscripts; exemptions from service for 1,500 exceptional Torah scholars per year; and personal sanctions for those who avoid service. Plesner said a plan for national service for Israeli Arabs should be drafted and finalized by next March.


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