Haredi Soldiers 311.
(photo credit: YAAKOV KATZ)
The Tal Law to regulate national and IDF service in the haredi community has failed, a Knesset taskforce charged with probing the law’s efficacy stated in its interim report, released during a Sunday noontime press conference.
MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), who has led the taskforce since its inception two years ago, presented the interim report to Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima). Although seven taskforce members probed the issue for two years, only five – the nonharedi members of the team – signed on to the interim report. Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) and Moshe Gafni (UTJ) both refused to sign, with Ze’ev complaining that the report was presented to him just before the Sabbath and that he could not fully examine it.
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Mofaz emphasized that “IDF service has moral significance that influences our strength and internal unity. We must have a dialogue with haredi society in order to achieve the goal of mandatory service for all, which is a national mission. It would not be correct to just examine this topic in terms of its political aspects.”
Plesner explained that the taskforce was still in the process of preparing a concrete set of recommendations in order to present a final plan to the government, but did present a number of finite goals for haredi service. Among them was a plan to see two-thirds of the haredi male draft-age population serve in either military or civilian service by 2015, with half in IDF service and half serving other national-level civilian bodies such as MDA or the fire and rescue services.
“The military must widen the variety of programs that it offers the haredi population, and in any case, the ‘Stage B’ [drastically shortened service] option must not constitute a substitute for significant military service,” said Plesner. He also called upon the Prime Minister’s Office to return the Civilian and National Service Authority to operate under its direct auspices, and to increase oversight of the programs that it operates in the haredi community.
Plesner complained that “the plan that the government proposed two weeks ago did not examine how the Tal Law is carried out. It is enlisting only a small percentage of the haredi population, and some of them are destined for only Stage B. The government also did not detail how it would reach its goals.”
The Tal Law, Plesner reminded lawmakers, is set to expire in August 2012. At that point, the Knesset will be forced to decide whether or not to extend the law, a decision that will largely rest in the hands of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which set up the taskforce.
“We do not oppose the Tal Law itself,” said Plesner, “but merely the way in which it is carried out.”
“The taskforce examined a wide array of subjects related to the topic and it has put forward a road map that will allow the integration of haredim and preventing their continued alienation,” said Mofaz. “The IDF must be the body that determines who can serve significant military service and who will go to civilian service. We must not reach a situation in which civilian service turns into a channel to get released from military service, but rather provides a solution in very clearly specified cases, such as problems of age or family situation. The military system must allow the haredi population a wide variety of roles, and only if no suitable match can be found, should the candidates be referred to alternative options.”
Mofaz warned that “in five to ten years, the idea of a people’s army will become obsolete” and said that once the situation regarding the haredi draft was rectified, attention could also be directed toward improving national service rates among other minority groups.
In the mean time, the Forum for Equality of the Burden will hold a march Tuesday from the Tel Hashomer base to Jerusalem to call attention to the need for a reform of the current draft arrangements with haredi men.
“The Plesner report is an historic document. For the first time, the Knesset did serious work and arrived at the conclusion that we have been arguing for years: the Tal Law completely failed and it cannot be successful,” responded the organization Sunday.
Gafni, on the other hand, sent a fierce missive to Plesner in which he argued that “the taskforce did not ever deal with the contribution of the yeshiva students for whom Torah studies are their profession to the Jewish people and the entire world.”
“The lives of Torah students are much harder than those of any other sector of the Jewish society that work for their income, build a career for themselves, have a easier lifestyle in the best cases, and are not constantly confronted by witchhunts and defamations by the media. The yeshiva students, whose study is their profession, carry the burden of this nation,” he continued.
“We have no right to exist as a nation without Torah students and we have no right to this land without them, and yet the chairman of the taskforce did not find it necessary to discuss any of this,” concluded Gafni.