Editorial

A Scheme for Survival

The prime minister’s coalition partners failed to stand up and say the new military conscription bill is both discriminatory and a political ploy

Netanyahu exists the Knesset after delivering a speech claiming he does not want to go to elections but knows he will win if a vote is held
Emil salman

The political survival deal the prime minister concocted with the ultra-Orthodox parties over the conscription law is just another brick in the wall of the illegitimacy of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Under a heavy pall of suspicions and investigations, Netanyahu managed to exploit the weakness of his coalition partners, who fear early elections, and to send a clear message to Israelis: To survive as prime minister I am willing to pass a law that is founded on discrimination.

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The bill, which exempts yeshiva students from the draft, was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. It was agreed that it be submitted to a preliminary vote in the current Knesset session, in exchange for the Haredi parties supporting the 2019 state budget. In other words, Netanyahu agreed to exempt thousands of young men from conscription, as long as he can continue serving as prime minister.

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The fact that the High Court of Justice already found the law discriminatory and that even Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit claimed that the bill in its current version will not withstand a challenge in the High Court are seen by senior coalition members as trivial. Avigdor Lieberman can yell as much as he wants but by remaining in this government he is partner to this injustice. Moshe Kahlon has gotten used to serving as a fig leaf for Netanyahu’s manipulations whereas the justice minister, who is supposed to defend the judiciary, believes the whole issue is one of semantics. “The wording will be coordinated with Lieberman as he requested and will be changed with the consent of the justice and defense ministries. Serious work will be invested in this, as needed.”

But if the current government were really serious it would clarify to the public — in words but mainly in deeds — that the conscription bill is discriminatory and thus unacceptable. There is no reason for a young secular man to risk his life in the army while a yeshiva student is exempt. If the state wants to exempt young people from military service, it should also grant exemptions to humanities or engineering students, and should definitely grant them to conscientious objectors who currently end up in prison.

Of greater concern is the fact that the bill is supposed to rest on the proposed Basic Law on Torah studies, which puts greater value on Jewish religious studies than on the principle of equality and which will prevent a future High Court from striking down the conscription law. In effect, Netanyahu has extinguished one fire (the draft law) by committing himself to a wider conflagration (Basic Law on Torah Studies), to be brought forward at a later date. Military service touches the very essence of Israeli society. Instead of conducting a thorough discussion of this topic, the prime minister preferred yet again to see his own political cost-benefit considerations. The good of the state is again subordinate to his survival efforts, and the secular public will continue to pay the price.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.