Activists set up mock army camp to protest Tal Law

TA activists dub base 'Camp Sucker,' lamenting law which "legislates discrimination"; PMO says cabinet won't vote on law.

Protest against Tal Law 390 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Protest against Tal Law 390
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Activists set up a mock military base dubbed “Camp Sucker (Freier)” at the Arlosoroff train station in Tel Aviv on Thursday, to protest the Tal Law after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that he would let the Knesset decide its fate.
The controversial law affords those studying full-time in a yeshiva the option of deferring their military service until they are 22. Once they reach that age, they can perform a year of vocational training, and then decide whether to join the army for a minimum of 16 months followed by annual reserve duty, or to perform a year of civilian service. After that point, they are legally free to join the work force.
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The encampment is somewhat reminiscent of the protest tents set up over the summer across the country, with booths set up by different NGOs, activists milling around talking to journalists, and the occasional passing car honking its approval or disdain.
Activists said Thursday that the encampment would remain open until Sunday morning, and that an assortment of public figures would make appearances, including former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, both of whom were scheduled to visit the “base.”
Earlier on Thursday, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Avi Dichter visited the camp, as did opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who told a small crowd of activists that “social justice begins with equally sharing the national burden and in army service.”
She also called the protest against the Tal Law “a battle for everyone who believes in Zionism and who wants to live in this country.”
Activist Boaz Nol called on the government to cancel the Tal Law and “legislate a law that requires mandatory service, army or civilian, from everyone; Jews, Arabs, religious, secular.”
He said the Tal Law legislated discrimination by making the haredi (ultra-Orthdox) sector exempt from serving, but stipulated that the protest “is not anti-haredi or anti-anyone.”
The thorny issue of the Tal Law continued to cause divisions within the coalition on Thursday, with the government confirming that it would not be brought to the cabinet on Sunday for a decision on whether to extend it for another five years, as had been scheduled.
Instead, said sources within the government, the law will be passed to the Knesset for debate, followed by a vote to determine whether to renew it or not.
The Tal Law was passed in 2002 as a temporary law and needs to be renewed every five years. It has generated widespread opposition because, although designed to encourage more ultra-Orthodox men to enlist, the rate of haredi enrollment in the IDF or national service remains at approximately 28 percent, compared to the overall overage of just over 50%.
Unless renewed again, it will expire in August this year, but due to a lack of support from coalition partners, Netanyahu decided to defer it to the Knesset for debate and a final vote in the summer.
Members of the opposition reacted furiously to the decision, describing it as an attempt to evade responsibility. MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), chairman of the Knesset working group to implement the Tal Law, said that the current arrangement had “clearly failed,” but that the prime minister was advancing it toward a Knesset vote without allowing it to be changed or reformed.
Plesner called on Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to prevent the law being debated until the government made a specific request.
“Don’t allow the Knesset to be disgraced in this way,” he demanded.
On Thursday night, Likud MK and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon also came out against a five-year extension calling for a one-year extension followed by a new law.
On Wednesday, during a speech in the Knesset plenum, Netanyahu labeled members of the opposition hypocrites for having renewed the law after it first expired in 2007, when the Kadima Party was in government.
The issue has split the coalition and elements within the Likud as well. Ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, both coalition partners, insist that the law be extended for another five years.
The Likud’s senior coalition partner Israel Beiteinu opposes the current arrangement, however, and said in a statement to the media on Thursday that the party would oppose the extension of the Tal Law in the Knesset as it had opposed it in the cabinet.
A source within Shas told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday night that the party would “fight till the end” to preserve the law.
The Independence Party, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, also opposes the law but is willing to extend it by one year to allow time to draw up new legislation.
On Wednesday night, Barak’s office issued a statement that he would raise a proposal in Sunday’s cabinet meeting to extend the Tal Law for a year, but on Thursday, Barak backtracked and said the issue would not be brought up at the meeting.
A source in United Torah Judaism told the Post that had the Tal Law been brought to a vote in the cabinet on Sunday for a one-year extension, the party would have left the coalition.
The Tal Law is aimed at attracting more haredi men to enlist in the army, through which they could then be legally employed, while also preserving their ability to postpone their military service continually in order to remain in full-time Torah study.
However, yeshiva students are able to ignore both the army and civilian service options and continue to stay in full-time study. The law is therefore widely seen as perpetuating the situation in which the burden of military service is not shared in an equitable manner across the different sectors of society.
In 2009, 729 ultra-Orthodox men enlisted in the IDF, 898 in 2010 and 1,282 in 2011, according to IDF figures. The army predicts that these numbers will continue to grow. In 2011, another 1,079 haredim enlisted in to the civilian national service option provided by the Tal Law.
Shahar Ilan, deputy director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group, said that despite gains made by the Tal Law, the increasing numbers were not keeping pace with the haredi population growth, and so the same core issue of an inequitable share of the burden of military service, as well as an increasing sector of the population unable to gain legal employment, will persist.
“There is an urgent need to conduct root canal treatment to the Tal Law, that would give a real answer to the problem of army evasion and [societal] discrimination,” Ilan told the Post, saying that the state was nearly out of time.
“If a large portion of haredi youth are not drafted to military or civilian service within a small amount of time, an economic catastrophe will befall the country along with a severe shortage of military manpower,” he said.
Government monetary allocations for yeshiva students have to be cut dramatically, he added, so that there will be less incentive to avoid military and national service and greater incentive to sign up.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.