Two cabinet ministers on Wednesday reacted quite differently to the High Court's ruling of the previous day that struck down the law exempting most ultra-Orthodox Israelis from compulsory military service. While the defense minister emphasized his plans to insist on service for all citizens, regardless of religiosity or cultural affiliation, the ultra-Orthodox interior minister insisted that the coalition would push through a new law to solidify his sector's exemption from the draft.
Speaking to the official newspaper of the Shas party that he heads, Interior Minister Arye Dery commented: "We have agreed with the prime minister to bring a new, strong law to the High Court, with an ironclad clause so that the High Court won't be able to meddle. We won't wait for the winter session; instead, we're going to meet with Netanyahu immediately after Rosh Hashana. All the leaders of the coalition will be committed to the new law."
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on the other hand, said that he would propose a law of mandatory service that extended to ultra-Orthodox Jews as well as to Arab citizens. Lieberman was commenting for the first time on the High Court's decision at a celebration for the Jewish new year being held by his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. "Those who refuse to serve should know that it has a price – and it applies to everyone," he said.
This dissension among members of the coalition is indicative of the possibility that this ruling may lead to the collapse of the government, as the ultra-Orthodox parties would surely oppose Lieberman's position, and Yisrael Beiteinu would likely be joined by Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party in opposing Dery's.
"We're absolutely talking about service for all," the defense minister said. "Every young person who reaches the age of 18 either performs army service or national service, the same thing for a Muslim or Bedouin.
"They say to me, 'How will you draft everyone? will you put tens of thousands in jail [if they refuse to serve]?'" Lieberman said. "I have no intention to put people in jail. I can make a criminal record for each of them and not subsidize scholarships for them."
"I don't understand why an ultra-Orthodox person can't service in the army," the defense minister said. "If he doesn't want [to serve] in the army, then [he can perform] national service. There are enough challenges here for everyone in every field."
He stressed his position of service from all sectors of society, "from the ultra-Orthodox, too, and also others: Christians and Muslims. You can't say that we can't expect Arabs to serve in the IDF. We can and how, and we're going to insist on it. Immediately after the holidays, this issue will go into high gear, and we'll fight for our position."
Despite his support for spirit of the High Court's ruling, Lieberman harshly criticized their involvement in the matter. He said that it would be necessary "to re-examine the foundation that has permitted the High Court of Justice to get into various fields that don't belong to it. Our main problem is the balance between all the elements of government in Israel. The components have changed in an improper way, and all the basic laws need to be re-examined."
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