IDF veteran benefits bill passes early vote despite opposition calls of racism

Meretz MK Frej: Gov't isn't willing to contribute to the Arabs, but wants them to contribute to the gov't.

October 30, 2013 16:26
2 minute read.
A SOLDIER from the Nahal Reconnaissance Company looks out at the border with Syria.

IDF soldier Golan 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

The Knesset authorized legislation granting benefits to IDF veterans in a preliminary vote, following a heated debate Wednesday.

The bill, which grants benefits in employment, higher education, buying land and other areas to recent IDF and civilian service veterans and active reservists, passed with 52 MKs in favor – including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – and 25 opposed, though Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said it is legally problematic.

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Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu), who proposed the bill, said that “those who serve are at a disadvantage today. They get to university at age 22 and meet people who didn’t serve who are starting a master’s degree at the same age.”

Earlier this week, after the proposal was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, Weinstein said parts of the bill were clearly unconstitutional and other parts’ constitutionality is questionable, leaving an overall worry that the bill could lead to racial and religious discrimination. Livni opposed the entire bill.

Weinstein and Livni’s announcement could leave the bill’s passage – or its ability to withstand a possible future petition to the High Court of Justice – in jeopardy.

“I heard this bill is unconstitutional; I’d like someone to show me the constitution so I can study it,” Levin quipped on Wednesday.

Israel does not have a constitution.

“Constitutionality” refers to whether a law defies a Basic Law, which Supreme Court justices often treat as more powerful than other laws.

Levin emphasized that the bill is “not anti-Arab or antianyone; it is just meant to protect those who contribute and serve.”

“This bill does not discriminate between Jews and Muslims, Druse or Christians who want to serve in the IDF,” Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ophir Akunis said. “Whoever contributes should get more, without difference of religion, race or gender.”

MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) called the bill populist.

“I’m an Israeli citizen, a Jew who loves this land no less than any of you,” he said to Likud MKs. “There’s no problem in giving benefits, but why are you trying to polarize the nation? Enlist haredim and Arabs.”

Meretz MK Esawi Frej said that “anyone who is disgusted by European laws forbidding ritual circumcision should look at this bill first.

This is a racist bill that is meant to exclude minorities.”

“This government isn’t willing to contribute to the Arabs, but wants them to contribute to the government,” Frej added.

According to the legislation, those who served may receive preference in hiring, ordering and receiving services, acceptance to college dormitories and buying land.

The bill also applies to those who did civilian services and those who asked to serve in the IDF but were rejected.

The benefits would only apply for seven years after finishing service, or to someone who did over 14 days of reserve duty in the previous year. In addition, preference of soldiers would only apply in cases when it does not go against existing laws prohibiting discrimination.

When land is being sold, the person selling it may prefer someone who served but is not required to do so.

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