Ya'alon, Plesner progress toward universal service

Kadima backtracks on Arabs, Likud on haredi service age; two sides test each others' red lines.

July 8, 2012 22:50
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Ariel Je

yaalon great 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner began drafting a bill Sunday that would equalize the burden of IDF service, in an effort to bring about what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called a historic change.

The two veterans of the IDF’s General Staff Reconnaissance Unit intend to work long hours over the next two days to complete the bill by Wednesday, get it approved in Sunday’s cabinet meeting and ensure its passage into law by the time the Knesset’s summer recess begins July 25.

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“We are facing a facing a historic opportunity to heal what has been an open wound for Israeli society,” Ya’alon said before his meeting with Plesner. “We have to use our brains and avoid exacerbating societal rifts. I hope we will succeed in this mission.”

In the meeting, Ya’alon and Plesner tested each other’s flexibility and red lines. The Likud was pleased to see Plesner compromise on service for Israeli Arabs, while Kadima officials said the Likud made concessions on the age when haredim will no longer be able to defer IDF service for full-time Torah study.

“There has been progress but there are still many question marks, which I hope within two or three days will become exclamation marks,” Plesner said.

Kadima officials said the meeting was a step in the right direction. They said there would still be many problems and disagreements before the bill passes, especially because “there are so many people who want to harm this process.”

Netanyahu and Kadima approve the appointment of the Ya’alon-Plesner task force on Sunday after the Likud faction agreed unanimously to endorse all of the recommendations of the Keshev Committee except for its points on Israeli Arabs.


The Likud faction said it saw no reason to delay the application of the “service for all” principle to the Israeli Arab population.

Plesner recommended that the application of a service mandate for this population be implemented gradually.

The other points addressed and accepted by the Likud faction are: the principle of service for all Israeli citizens; that serving is a personal responsibility; providing incentives and rewards for those who serve in the IDF; creating an enforcement mechanism that will punish those who evade service; and the immediate implementation of the committee’s recommendations regarding men in the ultra-Orthodox communities.

A statement issued by the faction also noted that it views gender equality in the IDF as greatly important, emphasizing that moves to apply universal service cannot be allowed to harm gender equality.

“Several months ago, I said that I would submit to the Knesset a law on service for everyone,” Netanyahu told the cabinet. “I said that what has been is not what will be, because on the issue of the division of the burden the existing situation cannot continue. Neither the army, the economy nor society can continue on the current path. Therefore, I completely understand the demand of those who serve and their families.”

The prime minister said he believed that the decisive majority of Israelis, including many in the haredi sector, understand that change must come.

“After 64 years in which this issue has not been properly dealt with, we are facing a historic move, a dramatic increase in the participation of the ultra-Orthodox and Arab publics in bearing the burden,” he said. “Such an increase has started, it is welcome, it is important – but it is not enough. We want to bring about a dramatic increase in the rate of participation. In order for this increased involvement to succeed, we must enact it gradually and in a way that does not lead to a rift in the nation.”

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz expressed opposition to those doing civilian service receiving the same incentives as those who enlist in the IDF for budgetary reasons, saying “someone who sweeps a mosque can’t get everything, it will cost too much,” and that it will lessen the IDF’s prestige.

“We cannot confuse the value of defending Israel with work that the government can pay for.

Massive civilian service is a bluff that will cost the state billions,” Steinitz added.

The finance minister also expressed concern about haredim with children enlisting, which would mean that the state would have to pay billions to support entire families, not just single soldiers.

Steinitz called for the IDF to enlist only those who are under 22 years old and do not have children.

Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled said that the new law is a “Zionist and moral matter” and that a change must take place immediately.

According to MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), the best incentive for those who serve is help in housing and buying land as well as scholarships, and an effective deterrent would be to give preference to those who enlist in all government jobs, including the rabbinate.

Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon lamented the many issues this government has faced, including the Arab Spring, illegal migrants, the demolition of the Ulpana outpost and the cancellation of the “Tal Law.”

“Why is this all happening on our watch?” he asked. “For such massive challenges we need a strong prime minister.”

Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin said there is a problem with requiring citizens to do civilian service, and that legally the state can only force enlistment in the military.

Begin pointed out that the High Follow-Up Committee for Arabs in Israel opposes any form of service, as do Arab mayors.

“We need to avoid passing a bill that will be dead on arrival,” he said. “Enforcement is not simple.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday that Yisrael Beytenu will continue to push forward its bill that will recommend each and every 18-year-old be drafted into some form of military service, whether it be national or civilian.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Liberman reiterated that if the principles of service for everyone and service from the age of 18 are not implemented, Yisrael Beytenu will continue to oppose a law that is based on the the Keshev Committee’s recommendations.

Michael Omer-Man contributed to this report.

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