Political crises that have erupted in other advanced countries when they had to make difficult decisions were presumably no easier than those we are facing now. But leaders of stature always arose to overcome fierce religious, ideological and political opposition, the type of opposition that an alternative to the Tal Law is now facing. And the politicians in those countries who dared to lead turned into leaders, and sometimes, even heroes who went down in history.
The expiration on August 1 of the Tal Law, which governs draft deferrals for yeshiva students, gives Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an opportunity to become a leader who will merit significant mention in the history books. The difficulty of passing an egalitarian draft law is more psychological than political. If he wants to do so, however, Netanyahu has a substantial majority for an ironclad law, one that would leave no room for special arrangements that circumvent a full draft for everyone (as opposed to the bill formulated by the Plesner Committee, which has more than a few loopholes and escape hatches ). Such a law would leave no room for shady deals that turn the minority that serves a full hitch in the army, and then does reserve duty afterward, into suckers.
"Civilian service" is a not the answer. Even today, because of a lack of places where they can do meaningful service that fills a real need and satisfies their desire to contribute, most of the women who do national service end up frustrated and disappointed.
Thus full military service must be the primary option of the Tal Law replacement. How this would be implemented is a function of the government's will and ability to enforce such a law. Common sense, forcefulness and a measured use of the many tools available to the state - especially when dealing with a community that wants to maintain its lifestyle, but cannot do so without the state's support - will, over time, most likely help the ultra-Orthodox become accustomed to these "evil decrees."
And now, on to the politics: The focus on the Palestinian issue has become anathema to most Israelis. Only a few men of yesteryear - politicians, pundits, and those funded by foreign bodies to whip up the embers of the flagging momentum - are still obsessed with justifying their historic mistakes, like the Oslo disaster. Until the boiling lava now erupting throughout the Arab world has cooled, and the region's new political formations become clear (Israeli intelligence agencies predict that revolutionary change will not be confined to Egypt), the Palestinians won't dare to make dramatic decisions.
Social issues, which were pushed to the margins of our consciousness by the addiction to the Palestinian issue, are currently at the top of the national agenda. And equality in the burden of military service is now the main social issue.
If Netanyahu swims against the current, a coalition of the moderate center-left will send him into the opposition. Most voters are centrists who personally bear the burden of service in the Israel Defense Forces. Both emotionally and ideologically, they are deeply invested in this issue. In light of this change in the Israeli agenda, Netanyahu must abandon his alliance with the ultra-Orthodox and forge a new alliance with the non-socialist center.
If he does this resolutely, it's reasonable to assume that the ultra-Orthodox, or at least the Shas party, will go to Canossa. They will have no choice. For years, they have been suckling at the state's bountiful breasts, and have grown addicted; they lack any experience of being weaned.
The current system allows Haredi leaders to feed tens of thousands of dependents. Thus if they cut the Gordian knot that ties them to the source of this bounty, their entire structure of existence and dependency will collapse. Severing this connection, which is bad for both the sucklers and those who suckle them, is Netanyahu's great but surmountable challenge. By chance, he has received a real opportunity to upgrade himself from a politician to a leader. And in time, as the ultra-Orthodox are weaned and gradually move from dependence to independence, even they will thank him.
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