After Tal Law ruling, Israel is back to square one
No one remembers today that the greatest opposition to the Tal Law came originally from the ultra-Orthodox leadership who were worried that it would empty the yeshivas.
Politicians have been falling over themselves since the six-three High Court ruling that the "Tal Law" is unconstitutional and therefore cannot be extended by the Knesset, to laud the judges and bid farewell to the unpopular law. In a rare moment of consensus, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak all said amen to this rare intrusion of the judiciary into the legislative process. The problem is that none of them have any alternatives to the Tal Law and the current system of exemptions for yeshiva students.
This isn't the fault of the judges – their job is not to propose laws and political arrangements. It is the result of a continuous failure of all the other parties involved: the government, politicians, rabbis, senior Finance Ministry officials, Israel Defense Force generals and business leaders. None of them have really tried to work out a system that will not only find a way to allow the Haredi community to realize its ideal of Torah study while not creating an unjust and unequal situation, and at the same time integrate hundreds of thousands of young men and women into the workplace.
There was nothing new about today's ruling; it simply echoed the original ruling from exactly ten years ago that said that the wholesale exemption of yeshiva students from military service, authorized by the defense minister, did not conform with basic constitutional standards of equality. That is what Supreme Court President Aharon Barak said then, that is what his successor, Supreme Court President (for another couple of weeks) Dorit Beinisch said today.
But all those politicians lining up to bask in the court's glow, Barak and Mofaz, both defense ministers who have signed off on tens of thousands of exemptions, and Livni and Lieberman, who were members of successive governments that could not have existed without paying the price to the ultra-Orthodox parties, have not moved a finger to change this unconstitutional system and they have no other alternative in place.
No one remembers today that the greatest opposition to the Tal Law came originally from the ultra-Orthodox leadership who were worried that it would empty the yeshivas. If the law had been implemented by the government ministries, by the IDF, in partnership with businesses and the Haredi communities, it may have stood a chance at achieving a major change in Israeli society. But ultimately, the politicians and rabbis succeed in eroding the law's original intentions and transforming it into a legislative cover for the old system, with minimal changes.
We are back again in a legal vacuum; from August there will be no legal basis for continuing the exemptions, but no-one can imagine sending the military police into the yeshivas and hauling off thousands of students to prison. Israel will, by then, be in the ecstasy of election season and the court will be forced to grant an extension. A new Knesset with a new coalition, with the Haredi parties once again holding the balance of power will be forced to perform an act of legal contortion, and vote through another version of the Tal Law that will somehow pass muster with judges. If that is at all possible.
It is too much to expect that this constitutional crisis will turn into an opportunity to once and for all reform the concept of national service for the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities and allow them to claim their productive and gainful positions in society.