Mofaz labels ‘Tal Law’ a failure

MKs call for better legislation to ensure more haredi men enlist in the army.

Shaul Mofaz 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Shaul Mofaz 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
MKs across the political spectrum agreed on Monday that the “Tal Law” was a failure and called for new legislation to ensure more haredi men enlist in the army.
During a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hearing, the panel’s chairman, Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff, joined forces with other lawmakers to call for the law to be changed.
The Tal Law was approved in 2002, in an effort to attract more haredi men to enlist in the army through which they could then be legally employed.
The law grants those studying full-time in a yeshiva the option to defer their military service until age 23, spend a year in vocational training, and then choose whether to join the army for six months followed by annual reserve duty, or to perform a year of civilian service, and then be free to legally join the workforce.
The MKs who joined Mofaz in opposing the legislation were Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), who is in charge of Knesset efforts to implement the Tal Law, former defense minister and committee member Amir Peretz (Labor), as well as committee members Einat Wilf (Independence), Isaac Herzog (Labor) and Moshe Matalon (Israel Beiteinu).
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said last week he would seek an extension of the Tal Law for five years, but backtracked in the face of opposition from coalition members.
The number of haredi men who could have enlisted in 2011 was 8,500, according to Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the IDF Human Resources Directorate, who was present during the hearing.
Of those, 1,282 men from the ultra-Orthodox community enlisted in IDF programs in 2011 and another 1,079 enlisted in the civilian service option provided by the Tal Law, according to IDF figures cited during the hearing.
“We cannot accept that the ‘people’s army’ turns into ‘half the people’s army,’” Mofaz said, arguing for a new model of national service “based on the principle of service for all.”
Mofaz also criticized the level of enlistment to the IDF among the population as a whole, which he said stood at just 50 percent as of 2011.
Mofaz quoted from the Talmud, citing the dictum that “the law of the land is the law,” meaning that Jews are obligated to follow the laws of the state in which they find themselves, although the applications of this principle are debated.
“Anyone who believes in this also has to follow it,” he said.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, speaking in the Knesset plenum later in the day, called for a united front from the Zionist parties to prevent the nation splitting into tribes.
“It’s our job to ensure that Israel is a place in which everyone contributes to the state, whether it’s military service, national service or civilian service,” she declared.
On the other side of the fence, both ultra-Orthodox MKs and experts provided evidence at the hearing that the law should not be hastily discarded.
Shalom Gerbi, head of the Civilian and National Service Administration, defended the law’s achievements and argued that the statistics reflected both a significant and a growing number of ultra-Orthodox men enlisting in some form of national service.
He emphasized that integrating the ultra-Orthodox into the army was a long-term process for which there would no quick fix. Gerbi believes “a real revolution” is occurring on the “haredi street,” with a growing understanding that national service participation must be increased.
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) made a brief appearance at the hearing, during which he argued that studying Torah was also an issue of national security. He asked why there were no calls for the secular community to integrate into the ultra-Orthodox community.
“We’re raising youth who don’t know Torah; in another five years there won’t be a Jewish people here,” he shouted before leaving the hearing.
A source from the UTJ faction told The Jerusalem Post on Monday night that the party would not allow those studying in yeshiva to be taken away from their studies and that the coalition could be endangered if attempts were made made to do so. Gafni is on record as supporting IDF enlistment for those not engaged in full-time yeshiva studies.
MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) accused those advocating the abolition of the Tal Law of political gamesmanship, saying that a social change has already begun within the haredi world regarding its attitude to national service. Those “inciting” against the ultra- Orthodox were cynically embracing a populist stance for political ends, he said.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) David Ivry, head of the temporary committee for the evaluation of the civilian service, also declined to acknowledge that the law had failed, and said that the enlistment figures proved that real achievements had been made.
“It’s easy for those standing on the sidelines to criticize the law, but the results we’ve got so far have been very hard to achieve, so anyone who wants to draft a new law should know that it will be very difficult to achieve better results than what we’re seeing at the moment,” Ivry said.
Plesner threw cold water on these claims, saying that 80% of those who enlisted in the civilian service program served only within their own community.
As such, he called for new legislation to bring about “real integration of the haredi community in national service and employment.”