Secular Israelis pay for the ultra-Orthodox free ride
Israeli society, the military and - no less - the ultra-Orthodox community need shaking up. This must start with the shelving of the Tal Law.
The law that perpetuates discrimination in favor of the ultra-Orthodox community at the expense of secular people - known as the Tal Law after retired Supreme Court Justice Zvi Tal - has justified its opponents' fears and proved wrong its supporters' pretensions. The law grants official sanction to yeshiva students who seek to evade full compulsory military service while enjoying the rights of soldiers.
Members of the secular majority, meanwhile, continue to enlist, serve and sacrifice three years of their lives - and sometimes their lives themselves - while the ultra-Orthodox continue to choose between total evasion of military service and preferential enlistment conditions. This inequality is patently unconstitutional - and it's amazing the masses haven't taken to the streets in protest.
Originally the law was supposed to apply for five years. As is accepted practice, and as was to be expected, when the time came for the law to expire, it was extended for another five years. It's now due to expire again and the politicians - who are about to face elections and fear the ultra-Orthodox parties much more than the secular voters - are looking for an excuse to extend it once again.
It seems a difference of opinion has arisen between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of the Knesset's Atzmaut faction, Ehud Barak. Netanyahu is asking for another five years while Barak only wants one. This is one more illustration of the cowardice of the defense minister who many years ago was a courageous soldier.
There is no big difference between one year and five years because the government, either this one or the next, will be able to request an extension once again. The General Staff's position is that the Israel Defense Forces has priority over whom it calls up to the army (according to the needs and skills required ), and that it will increase the remuneration to anyone who serves for more than a year while the others, the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs, do a year of national service. If Barak, as he says, relies on the General Staff's position, he must take steps now to introduce legislation in this spirit.
Barak returned to the Defense Ministry four and a half years ago. He should have prepared for the Tal Law's expiry last year and not looked for excuses to postpone the process for another year. Israeli society, the military and - no less - the ultra-Orthodox community need shaking up. This must start with the shelving of the Tal Law.