A pragmatic approach
What matters is not that we enact a new law but how efficiently we use the tools placed in the public’s hands during the state’s infancy.
Orthodox man talks with soldiers. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
There’s no disputing that the “Tal Law” was a dispiriting failure. It barely
dented the inequity that allowed significant sectors of the population – most
prominently many haredim and Arabs – to dodge the draft.
Indeed, the law
perversely provided an official stamp of approval for what turned out to have
been an elaborate charade. It furthered and preserved the link between
enrollment in a yeshiva and exemption from enlistment in the
Therefore, there is no need for Israelis to lament the fact that no
substitute could be concocted for the law finally struck down by the High Court
For all the sound and fury, the differences between the Likud
and Kadima were paltry, hinged on dispensable details rather than substance, and
might have not survived further petitions to the High Court.
negotiations on the law were a façade. The real reason Kadima wanted to join the
coalition was its fear of a September 4 election mulled by the Likud.
that this immediate danger has been eliminated, there is patently no political
profit in remaining in a partnership with the Likud.
Had there remained a
lucrative payoff, the will would have been found to hammer out a Tal Law sequel,
because in politics, more than in any other sphere, where there is a will there
is a way.
Whatever the other pros and cons to the breakup, the follow-up
to the Tal Law is no loss. Indeed there is no point in rushing before the
court-imposed August 1 deadline to wave a magic wand and produce a new formula
geared to please everyone and disgruntle no one. Not only is that inherently
undoable but it is also unnecessary.
We can simply revert to the status
quo as it existed before 1999, when then-premier Ehud Barak appointed the Tal
Committee (whose recommendations were adopted in 2002 and extended,
significantly, by the Kadima administration in 2007, when it was already clear
that it had become a farce).
Before the Tal Law, every able-bodied
18-year-old was theoretically subject to conscription according to the 1949
military service regulations. The situation, in fact, formally resembled what
the current Yisrael Beytenu bill proposes. Beyond it lies the minefield of
implementing the existing law. Each defense minister is empowered to decree if
and whom to exempt.
Thus it may well be possible to gradually increase
the numbers of ultra-Orthodox youths conscripted – as the various legislative
remedies aimed to do – but without the attendant fanfare. The 1,300 haredim
already in the IDF could be joined by an additional 400 each year, without
straining the army’s resources and capabilities to absorb more. Others could be
earmarked for significant civilian national service.
could also survive legal challenges.
The state could respond that it is
drafting as many ultra-Orthodox as the IDF can handle.
draft obligation could also be imposed at random. In other words, a net could be
cast unpredictably and whoever is caught in it must serve or face personal
The deterrent value of possible punishment cannot be
underestimated. Thus it might be feasible to conscript greater numbers of
eligible adolescents without superfluous hoopla sure to trigger a destructive
rift in our anyhow already fraying societal fabric.
There was nothing
sacrosanct in the Tal Law and we can carry on without an equally deficient
What matters is not that we enact a new law but how
efficiently we use the tools placed in the public’s hands during the state’s
From this point on, it will be up to the electorate to judge how
each government that it had put into office uses the tools it already possesses.
Our public opinion is more critical and more mindful of the issue than
Therefore, voters are more likely to scrutinize the record of every
defense minister and every coalition on the question of conscription. Those who
fail to deliver any improvement may well face electoral backlash. The fear of
the voter can be a potent incentive to progress.
We have power and we can
do more than gripe.