Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz. Photo by Michal Fattal
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The political upheaval that has erupted over the committee tasked with rewriting military draft guidelines brings to mind a cliched image from old Westerns: A group of gunslingers stand around in a circle and threaten one another. Yisrael Beiteinu, the Orthodox parties, Kadima and, finally, Likud - all have in recent days issued threats relating to the dissolution of the committee, or of the governing coalition.

What remained to be clarified last night was whether this is a passing bluff or a genuine coalition crisis. Do any of the gunslingers really have ammunition? Is Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, for instance, really yearning to quit a government he joined just two months ago?

The moment it became clear which way the Plesner committee was leaning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started to try to figure out how he could disband it. Faced with a choice between paying lip service to the need for egalitarian conscription and maintaining the old alliance with the ultra-Orthodox, Netanyahu blatantly chose the latter, as seen in his announcement yesterday afternoon that the committee was being disbanded.

His maneuvering actually started last week, when Yisrael Beiteinu delegates noisily quit the Plesner committee, on the pretext that the chairman of the committee, MK Yohanan Plesner of Kadima, had no intention of dealing with guidelines on drafting Arab citizens. Netanyahu rushed to announce that national service undertaken by Arabs is important to him "in principle." When this initial crisis did not suffice to break up the committee, the resignation of the Orthodox delegate, attorney Yaakov Weinroth, provided Netanyahu with another excuse.

Ultimately, in its more than six decades of existence, this country has not had a genuine discussion about draft quotas or sanctions against those who shirk the draft. Perhaps what is most unfortunate is that a public showdown on this subject is liable to lead to extremist escalation.

Over the past two years, Haredi rabbis have turned a blind eye as hundreds of young ultra-Orthodox men joined the army, though not as part of a comprehensive agreement about Haredi military service. Now the Haredi rabbis are competing with one another to come across as the most adamant opponent of army service, so there is little hope that any of them will endorse any form of conscription, even on an extremely limited basis. If Plesner makes good on his threat to release the report independently, he is liable to embarrass Netanyahu politically, but such a move probably won't have any effect on IDF conscription policy. The current upheaval is indeed raucous, but it is more likely to become just another missed opportunity than it is to bring about any real change.