There were no official ultra-Orthodox or Arab representatives present on Monday at the first meeting of the committee tasked with crafting a law governing the draft.
The new law will replace the interim Tal Law, which grants draft deferrals to the ultra-Orthodox. The High Court of Justice has found that law to be unconstitutional and ruled that it cannot be extended once it expires July 31.
Monday's meeting was a "historic moment as well as an opportunity to change the agenda in the State of Israel," said Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz.
The committee hearings will enable the recently expanded government to carry out the first clause of its coalition agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the opening of the meeting.
"Two weeks ago we were in this hall, Shaul Mofaz and I, to announce the establishment of the broad-based unity government," he said. "The first clause in the unity deal was to bring about an alternative to the Tal Law."
But though the new law will primarily affect the ultra-Orthodox, by stating when and how Haredi men will be expected to join the army (Haredi women will continue to be exempt ), there are no official ultra-Orthodox representatives on the panel.
That's because the two Haredi parties, the Sephardi Shas party and the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism, have refused to send representatives; they don't want to be seen as cooperating with the government on an issue that their voters deeply oppose.
However, prominent lawyer Jacob Weinroth, who is serving on the committee, is widely considered to be the Haredi community's unofficial representative.
Similarly, Arab MKs and the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee said they were not interested in joining the committee - although Netanyahu said one of the important elements of the panel's work is to include both Jews and Arabs without setting one group against the other. He also said it was important to implement any changes gradually.
According to a source with knowledge of the committee, Arab officials said any Arab who sits on the committee would be considered a kind of "Uncle Tom." The source said Arab officials plan to conduct an unofficial dialogue with the panel, and committee chairman MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima ) said he expects that an Arab member will eventually join the panel.
"Additional spots are reserved for an Arab representative and a woman from the field of economics," he said.
Two of the 10 members of the committee are female, a proportion that some said was too low, especially considering the potentially deleterious effects that an increased Haredi presence in the Israel Defense Forces could have on women.
"Drafting Haredim into the IDF has critical consequences for women's service in the army," said Gila Oshrat, who heads the Israel branch of the Women's International Zionist Organization. "A failure to develop a model for full equal opportunity and for preventing women's service from being curtailed will lead to severe discrimination against women in the army."
The IDF already accedes to ultra-Orthodox demands that Haredi units not interact with female soldiers, as other units often do, and some fear that a larger ultra-Orthodox presence in the army could keep women from doing more in the military or even from doing some of the jobs they already do.
The committee has begun its deliberations even though it expects to expand its membership because it is under a tight deadline, both because the Tal Law expires at the end of July and because that is when the Knesset's summer recess generally begins.
The panel is expected to complete its deliberations, which will take place three times a week, by June 28, and to finish drafting the alternative to the Tal Law by July 25.
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