“The law is a ass – a idiot,” said Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens’ "Oliver Twist," when confronted in court with a law that seemed to him to run counter to common sense.
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Two bills that have been laboriously making their way through Knesset committees for the past few months and are now nearing the final stages of the legislative process seem to fit Mr. Bumble’s description.
They run counter to common sense and will not achieve their declared aim.
They are the bill for the conscription of ultra-Orthodox young men into military service, and the bill to increase the minimum threshold for political representation in the Knesset. The first purports to share the burden of defending the country among a wider segment of the population, while the second is meant to improve “governance” by the elected government.
Neither is likely to achieve their aim – on the contrary, they will probably have unfortunate and negative side effects.
In the bill for the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox into the army, the legislators are attempting to right a wrong that has bedeviled the country for the past 65 years – a wrong that has been getting steadily worse, with tens of thousands of Haredim not participating in the defense of the country.
What the legislators should have realized is that a problem that has existed for so long has no instant solution. Moreover, it is not amenable to a solution by law.
The existing legal situation, wherein the defense minister has the authority to call up young men at the age of 18, or to defer their service, is sufficient to bring about a gradual amelioration of the situation.
As a matter of fact, recent years have seen a substantial increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox young men reporting for military service. The Israel Defense Forces, by providing incentives for military service and by creating special units that will be friendly to the sector, has clearly brought about a significant improvement, letting things take their natural course without arousing protest demonstrations and raising the specter of fratricidal conflict.
All that is needed is for the defense minister, with the backing of the government, to instruct the IDF to increase and accelerate these measures on a year-by-year basis, and the announced aim of the legislation will be gradually achieved.
The planned legislation has already triggered a wave of protests and violent demonstrations, which may well reverse the present positive trend of young Haredim participating in the defense of the country.
What’s more, the proposed legislation is basically discriminatory in nature, by legally providing conditions for ultra-Orthodox men that are not available to the rest of the population – such as the option of substituting civilian for military service.
If this legislation is passed, it will undoubtedly lead to demands from the rest of the population for exercising the same option – something that may call into question the very system of compulsory military service.
The potential outcome of increasing the threshold for a faction's entry into the Knesset will be equally pernicious. The three existing Arab Knesset factions (Balad, Hadash and United Arab List-Ta’al) will be faced with the choice of either consolidating into one single Arab bloc of 12 or 13 MKs – despite the ideological differences between them – or else foregoing representation of the Arab population in the Knesset.
The latter will deal a serious blow to Israeli democracy, while the former will contribute nothing to better governance. The eventual rise of an Arab party dedicated to the integration of the Arab population into Israeli society may very well be delayed for many years by this measure.
Who is the ass in this case? The proposed legislation, or the MKs who assiduously push this legislation – which is going to do nobody any good – forward? It is not too late to stop the legislative process, and prove that the MKs who have been trying to make their reputation on this legislation are not in fact idiots.