With Tal Law Set to Expire

Sources in Netanyahu Coalition: Bill on Haredi IDF Service Could Take Months

Tal Law, which regulates the military service of ultra-Orthodox men, expires August 1; source: Matter may have to wait until after elections.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz on Tuesday discussed the Tal Law that expired on July 31, saying Defense Minister Ehud Barak has instructed him to prepare to enlist the ultra-Orthodox to army service.

"The defense minister instructed us to prepare to enlist Haredim, and we are already readying an action plan to do so," said Gantz, We are prepared for conscription and look to the future. I am not looking backward 64 years; I look ahead, 64 years into the future. The drafting of ultra-Orthodox men is not a military matter but rather a political one. The political leadership will decide, and whatever decision it reaches, the IDF will adjust itself accordingly."

Barak appointed a special task force to examine the implications of draft options, and ordered the IDF to submit a detailed proposal regarding ways the law could be applied. Barak set a number of guidelines on this issue, including a demand that a draft plan be able to withstand High Court reviews, and be suited to the IDF's needs and values, while upholding social values of equality. Among other things, there is concern that increased conscription of Haredi men could exacerbate tensions surrounding the role of women soldiers and women involvement in IDF ceremonies and events.

Coalition insiders believe it will take months before a new bill is legislated to replace the Tal Law. These sources, who are involved in efforts to draft a new law, said that "legislation on the new bill might have to wait until the next national elections. The matter could wind up on the doorstep of a new government."

The clock ran out on the Tal Law for Orthodox IDF deferrals on Tuesday, and the Netanyahu government is yet to prove that it is able to legislate a replacement for it. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin promised last week that he would convene the plenary, despite its current recess, to make headway on the legislation of a new bill.

Rivlin added that the Knesset will set to work immediately on any proposal brought to it by the Netanyahu government. "The government did not bring to the Knesset a replacement for the Tal Law, but should it do so during the recess…I will convene the parliament immediately."

As they plan their vacations, Knesset members should take into account that they might receive one day's notice to reconvene for work on this issue, warned Rivlin. He spoke at the Knesset's last session prior to its adjournment.

Minister Moshe Ya'alon, a former IDF chief of staff, has assumed responsibility for drafting a new law, following the collapse of Likud's coalition agreement with the Kadima party, and the latter's decision to leave the coalition. Ya'alon, however, has been making little headway on a new bill.

Ya'alon has recommended that the IDF make preparations to absorb new Haredi recruits, who would muster into the army should new conscription target figures be set; and he has urged the IDF to create new service tracks for these ultra-Orthodox men.

The vice prime minister thinks the IDF should create new Haredi battalions, which would be deployed in an array of assignments defined by the IDF. Among other missions, these battalions would act as support squads for combat and home front units.

Ya'alon has also called for the immediate creation of civilian, national service frameworks for the ultra-Orthodox, which could operate under the auspices of the police, Magen David Adom emergency medical serves, and the Israel Prison Service.

He insists that "we are not waiting for a Knesset majority to materialize in favor of a new piece of legislation." He says that "in conjunction with the staff work being down now in government ministries to forge final conscription outlines to be brought to the coalition and the Knesset for approval, I have recommended to the prime minister and to cabinet ministers that work be done immediately to create these additional service frameworks for the Haredim."