Haaretz Editorial

Evasion Is Their Calling

The topic of universal military service cries out to become part of the opposition parties' agenda. They must attack the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Haredi bloc strongly and consistently on this issue.

This year, one out of every seven Israeli men who are otherwise eligible for the draft will receive an exemption with the excuse that "Torah is their calling." One could say, draft evasion is their calling. According to Amos Harel (Haaretz, yesterday ), this is a new record, equivalent to eliminating one battalion from the ranks of the draft army. As such, it also affects military service down the line, in the reserves. In other words, there are a growing number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, placing an increasing burden on a declining number of secular and observant Jews who do serve.

Benjamin Netanyahu loves to boast of his far-reaching vision and his pioneering accomplishment. He can certainly lay claim to the title of the first prime minister to break the 13-percent barrier in exempting Haredim from serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

This year the percentage of Haredi men issued military exemptions as full-time yeshiva students reached 13.8 percent of all Israeli draft-eligible men. The figure represents a rise of 0.8 percent from the previous three years.

Projections based on the number of children entering first grade at the start of this decade see this proportion rising to 20 percent at the start of the next decade.

Netanyahu talks about equal sharing of the burden in order to entice voters who are infuriated at being discriminated against in favor of the Haredim, but his actions are a wink and a nod to Shas and United Torah Judaism. If what had been is not what is to be, that is only because the future promises to be much worse than the past.

Just six months ago, the disagreement over a successor to the so-called Tal law governing Haredi military exemptions, which had expired, was at the center of the political boxing ring. Terms like "Plesner Committee" were bandied about. The issue prompted Shaul Mofaz to sabotage plans for an early election, to bring his Kadima party into the coalition and then to leave it, all in the blink of an eye. When the election was brought forward, the urgent and important pretext for doing so was completely forgotten. The only ones addressing the Haredi conscription issue are the IDF, which must be prepared with or without the Haredim, and the media.

The real evaders here are the politicians. It is convenient for them to talk about issues that are beyond their control, and thus beyond their scope of responsibility, and to avoid tackling the ones where they could have an impact - and that could have an impact on them, in turn. The topic of universal military service cries out to become part of the opposition parties' agenda. They must attack the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Haredim bloc strongly and consistently on this issue.