Anti-draft-dodger activists take campaign to the streets

Aim of Tal Law isn't to get haredim to serve in IDF but to get them to stop studying and join work force, says forum founder.

April 2, 2010 00:52
3 minute read.
A haredi man walks past IDF soldiers

soldiers haredi 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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The Israeli Forum for the Promotion of an Equal Share of the Burden is due on Friday to hold a two-hour vigil in Ramat Gan to protest the fact that 35 percent of conscription-age men and woman do not perform military or any other kind of national service.

“There is a Compulsory Security Service Law in Israel and this country is governed by the rule of law,” Miri Bar-On, the founder of the forum, told The Jerusalem Post. “Therefore, it cannot be that the law will only apply to 65% of the population.”

Bar-On established the organization in 2007, after the Knesset voted to extend the Tal Law, which legalizes military service exemptions for haredim while encouraging them to leave the yeshiva and work without having to face the prospect of three years of compulsory military service.

According to the temporary legislation, which was extended for a second five-year period on July 18, 2007, any haredi man who asks for it will be granted a compulsory military service exemption for three years. In the fourth year, the student may leave the yeshiva for any reason without being drafted.

At the end of that year, he has three choices: He may either return to yeshiva and continue studying, or perform a truncated compulsory service after which he does not have to return to the yeshiva but will be called up for reserve duty. Under the third option, he may complete a year of public service or learn a trade and may then begin to work without being called up to serve.

According to Bar-On, the law has proved to be a failure and should be annulled. She quoted senior officers in the IDF Manpower Branch as warning that in another 10 years, 25% of all 18-year-old Jewish Israeli men will study in a yeshiva rather than serve in the army. Today, the figure has already reached 13%.

The aim of the Tal Law is not to get haredim to serve in the army but to get them to stop studying and join the work force, she charged. Even those haredim who devote a year to public service do so within the confines of their own community and do not serve the community at large in vital services like firefighting or the police.

But it is not only the haredim who trouble Bar-On.

“Our struggle is not only against them,” she told the Post. “We believe that everyone should serve – if not in the army then in community service.”

She includes Israeli Arabs and conscientious objectors among those who should work on behalf of the community.

“Today, there are two societies in Israel, living separate lives side by side,” she said. “There are those who live in a certain reality, who do not sleep at night when their children are serving, and there are those who feel nothing. There are those who serve in the army and those that pursue a career or spend their time in the yeshiva.”

Bar-On said she decided to take her protest movement to the streets because the politicians have failed to do what they should have done.

“It looks like the pressure must come from below to make a change,” she added, saying that the organization will hold vigils at least twice a month from now on.

After the Tal Law was extended for another five years, several organizations and individuals petitioned the High Court to nullify the law on the grounds that it had failed to accomplish its aims and that, on the other hand, it violated the constitutional principle of equality.

In a decision handed down on September 8, 2009, a panel of nine Supreme Court justices headed by Esther Hayut granted the government 15 more months to see whether it could persuade greater numbers of haredim to either join the army or learn a trade and join the work force. The court will resume hearings on the petition at the beginning of 2011.

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