‘Tal Law’ a ‘failure,’ says equality forum lawyer

MK Nissim Ze’ev: Recent growth in haredi enlistment to the IDF is "very significant."

Religious haredi IDF soldiers praying 521 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Religious haredi IDF soldiers praying 521 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A two-hour discussion was conducted on Tuesday in the Knesset between activists and politicians seeking to abolish the “Tal Law.”
The session, called “An Army of Half the People?” was initiated by MK Avi Dichter, former public security minister, and the Forum for Equality in the Burden of Military Service.
The Knesset passed the Tal Law as a temporary law in 2002 to encourage ultra- Orthodox men to enlist in the army while preserving their ability to defer army service.
The law is due to expire in August this year and its possible extension for another five years has sparked heated debate within the Knesset and broader society because of the social implications of the current low level of ultra-Orthodox national service.
As well as representatives from the Forum, the Machane Hameshutaf and grade 12 high school students, MKs Haim Amsalem (Shas), Nissim Ze’ev (Shas), Moshe Matalon (Israel Beiteinu), Miri Regev (Likud), and Otniel Schneller (Kadima) also participated, along with the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate Maj.- Gen. Orna Barbivai.
Itai Ben-Horin, an attorney from the Forum, spoke out strongly against extending the Tal Law, calling it a “failure,” and citing figures that he said demonstrated a 100 percent increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox men receiving an exemption from the army between 2002 and 2011.
Activists calling for the abolition of the law seek a new framework in which everyone turning 18 will be called up for military, national or civilian service. Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently proposed a bill along these lines with financial inducements for those who serve in the IDF, although he would extend the Tal Law for one year in order to draft the new legislation.
Ze’ev, who was frequently interrupted during his allotted five minutes, argued against a wholesale abolition of the Tal Law, and said the recent growth in the numbers of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) enlisting to the IDF was “very significant.”
Ze’ev also pointed out that law has in effect, only been in implemented since 2007 when haredi enlistment stood at less than 300 men. In 2012, 1,282 ultra-Orthodox men enlisted in the various IDF programs for haredim, along with more than a thousand who performed national or military service. This represents approximately 27 percent of the 8,500 haredim who could have been drafted in 2011.
The overall figure for enlistment nationwide, excluding Israeli Arabs who are exempted from military service, is 75%.
The stance of many ultra-Orthodox leaders and politicians, expressed by Ze’ev during the discussion, is that gradual change is developing in the haredi world in which more and more people are interested in serving in the army in order to be able to legally join the work force.
Chairman of the National Student Union Itzik Shmuli said if high school seniors were to “wave the flag of national service equality in May, students will not be able to distance themselves from [their protest].”
Renegade MK Amsalem voiced his support for widespread haredi enlistment, albeit through a gradual process and with the exception of a small number of elect Torah scholars who should be enabled to continue their studies.
“Moses asked of the two and a half tribes who requested to stay on the east bank of the Jordan, ‘shall your brothers go out to war while you settle down?” Amsallem said during the debate, in reference to an episode in the Bible preceding the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites.
Last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the government would propose changes to the Tal Law, despite having previously sought to extend the law as it is by another 5 years.
The Knesset Working Group for the Implementation of the Tal Law, headed by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) will present proposals for the fate of the Tal Law to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the coming weeks.