To Avoid Cabinet Divisions, Netanyahu to Bring Haredi Military Service Bill Before Knesset

Tal Law - which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer military service – will not be voted on by the cabinet next Sunday.

The Tal Law - which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer military service – will not be voted on by the cabinet next Sunday, Prime Ministers Benjamin's Netanyahu's office announced on Thursday.

Netanyahu's decision goes against that of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who said he intended to hold a government discussion on the matter. "In the coming year we must reach a new agreement that will see everyone sharing the burden and will include mandatory service for everyone," Barak said on Thursday.

Ultra-Orthodox IDF recruits
New recruits to the army, from the ultra-Orthodox community.

Earlier this week, Barak threw his weight behind a proposal to pay soldiers doing their compulsory service minimum wage, saying this would be incorporated into a new law that would require every Israeli to do one year of either military or civilian national service. Barak said his ministry is preparing the law, which would replace the Tal Law.
Sources at the prime minister's office said that since the law will expire in six months, there is no need for a government debate on the matter.

The Tal Law itself states that the Knesset must begin discussing whether to extend it at least six months before it is due to expire in August 2012, so discussion must begin no later than February 1 if the legislators want to preserve the option of extending it.

Meanwhile, dozens of IDF reserve soldiers erected on Thursday in Tel Aviv what they call the "suckers' camp," to protest the possible extension of the Tal Law. The protesters, who set up the camp near Tel Aviv's central train station, were visited by a number of politicians and public figures, as well as high school students, university students and disabled IDF veterans.

Boaz Nol, who organized the protest, said that "in the state of Israel everyone has to serve, whether in the IDF or in national service."

Opposition head MK Tzipi Livni met with the protesters, and said that "social justice begins with sharing the burden and military, national or civilian service." She added: "This is the struggle of anyone who believes in Zionism and wants to live in this country."

Last week, Netanyahu said the law, which expires in the summer, will not be extended for another five years. However, following a disagreement with Barak on the matter, Netanyahu later announced that the law would be extended for another five years.

Barak recently called to extend the law for one year, while formulating an alternative framework in the interim period. Under such a framework, he said, the IDF would choose who to draft, while everyone else would be required to complete a year of national service.

On Monday, Head of the Israel Defense Forces' personnel directorate Major-General Orna Barbibai said that "there is no dispute that the challenging security reality demands that we enlist everyone into meaningful service."

According to Barbibai, one out of every four Israeli men and almost half of Israeli women are not drafted into military or national service. "These statistics indicate a need to conduct a thorough re-evaluation of the universal requirement to serve and equal distribution of the burden [of service]."

National Economic Council head Eugene Kandel, who represented the government in the discussion, took issue with Barbibai's statements, claiming the IDF would have difficulty absorbing additional ultra-Orthodox conscripts.

According to official IDF statistics presented by Kandel, the number of ultra-Orthodox conscripts to the IDF rose from 288 in 2007 to 1,282 in 2011, which he said exceeded goals set by the government.

Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) criticized the law and called to abandon it in its present form. According to Mofaz, only half of young people of draft age in Israel are actually drafted into service, and the number is expected to fall to forty percent by 2020.