Supreme Court Scores a Victory for Equality in Israel

Following the failure of the Tal Law, the prime minister and his government should act to end discrimination among young citizens and bring about increased equality in shouldering the burden of military service.

A decade after the Tal Law was passed by the Knesset, the High Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that it is unconstitutional and cannot be extended again. The law, which was to have rectified a situation whereby tens of thousands of yeshiva students are not drafted into the army, was branded a failure by the High Court.

In their ruling, the justices indicated that the principle of equality had been compromised by the way the law mandating military service had been applied, allowing a whole group to evade service using infuriating excuses.

Nahal Haredi soldier - Archive: Eyal Warshavsky / BauBau - 30112011
Eyal Warshavsky / BauBau

In one of the last rulings of the outgoing president, Dorit Beinisch, the justices, by a majority of six to three, looked straight at that twisted situation that the politicians love to evade for their own extraneous reasons. The High Court is not keen on putting itself in the place of the lawmakers.

However, this time it recognized a dangerous gap - a rupture in fact - between, on the one hand, the right of Israelis to equality in shouldering the military burden and, on the other hand, the verbal acrobatics of MKs for the benefit of a favored minority to the detriment of a deprived majority. The law, Beinisch and her colleagues determined, contradicts constitutional, proportional and egalitarian principles.

The High Court ruling means that the Tal Law has failed, and it is regrettable that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his partners, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the emissaries of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, continued to defend it until it collapsed.

The incoming High Court president, Justice Asher Grunis was in the minority and stated that "it is an illusion to expect that judicial rulings will lead to the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox to the Israel Defense Forces and their joining the labor force." It is also regrettable that he doubts the impact of the court on the conduct of a segment of Israeli society. The court does have an influence even if sometimes it can only be seen after some time.

The prime minister, the defense minister and their colleagues in the government should act now to rectify the discrimination among young citizens and bring about increased equality in shouldering the burden of military service.

The ultra-Orthodox must understand that the number of young men among them who are exempt from military service, which now stands at 62,000, exceeds what Israeli society can bear.

It seems that only of late have the politicians begun to hear the rumblings of the secular revolution. Israel can be proud that the High Court is attentive to those voices.

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