Long-awaited Reserve Law to finally pass

Legislation would boost reservist wages, enable tax breaks.

reservists 298.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
reservists 298.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Although reserve service has been a fixture of Israeli society since its earliest days, this week is expected to mark the first time that the Knesset has passed legislation defining the conditions of reserve duty. By the end of the week, the Reserve Law, which has been in the making for the past five years, is expected to pass its second and third readings and will officially set conditions for calling up the country's reserve forces, for the economic rights of reservists, and for the quality of equipment and preparedness. "This is a law that defines the importance of the reserve enterprise and defines compensation and even rewards for reserve service," said MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz), who has been working on the bill since its inception. "For the first time, reserve service is going to be regulated in a piece of legislation." Previously some of the rules concerning reserve service were encompassed by the General Security Service Law, but in many cases, legislation was simply missing. Some of the current law was lifted directly from the earlier law, said Vilan, but much of it is wholly new. One of the central themes of the new legislation is compensation for reserve service. Originally, unemployed people - including students working at minimum wage - were paid NIS 3,700 for their service, corresponding to the national minimum wage. Now, the compensation will be pegged to 68% of the average income, raising their salary to approximately NIS 5,300. In addition, all reservists who serve over 15 days per year will be entitled to a tax break - up to two credit points on their income taxes, a benefit that could add up to as much as NIS 4,000. But not all of the benefits are paid in cash. The law also contains a clause - which Vilan himself finds problematic - allowing for "positive discrimination" in favor of reservists when it comes to other perks, such as securing spots in university dormitories. The law also seeks to standardize the number of days that reservists can be called up to serve, with most regular soldiers limited to serving 54 days, non-commissioned commanders serving 70 days and officers serving 84 days over a three-year period. According to Vilan, the authors of the bill originally wanted to mandate that reserve service be restricted to training except in the event of war. However, after stiff opposition from the IDF and the Defense Ministry, a compromise was reached in which no more than one-third of non-wartime reserve duty would be dedicated to operational activity. In order to ensure that the law passed, a number of the most contentious issues were ultimately removed from the proposed law and will be introduced for separate votes later. The Second Lebanon War, which broke out as the legislation was in the process of being drafted, played a key role in emphasizing the importance of certain parts of the law. "It proved that we needed the reserves, and that the reserves need to train," said Vilan. "Before the war, the IDF didn't take seriously all of the clauses that we put in concerning the readiness of the equipment." Now, the law will mandate that the IDF and the Defense Ministry answer to the government and the Knesset once a year regarding the preparedness of reserve forces, including equipment readiness. The reforms will not come cheap and will cost the public coffers an estimated NIS 800 million. Some of that is already in use by the Defense Ministry, and the Finance Ministry's estimate is that the law's conditions will ultimately cost an additional NIS 400m., Vilan said.