Tens of Thousands Call for Equal Draft Law for All Israelis

Protesters argue with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, accuse him of using draft issue for political gain.

Tens of thousands of people gathered Saturday night in Tel Aviv to demand that ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis participate in the universal draft. Among the demonstrators were politicians and senior reserve officers.

At the beginning of the demonstration, at the Arlozoroff train station where reservists demanding universal service have been holding a vigil, protesters argued for several minutes with Yair Lapid, the leader of the new party Yesh Atid. They accused him of taking advantage of their struggle to make political headway. Lapid responded by saying the struggle had to be fought in the political arena.

From the train station, the crowd marched to the Tel Aviv Art Museum plaza.

Speaking to reporters at the demonstration, Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz said: The findings of the Plesner Committee must be implemented. By Wednesday, we will have a bill ready to be voted into law. We must not allow this subject to slip out of public discourse. I came here to identify with all Israelis who serve and carry the burden.

Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told the rally: Unfortunately, there are still people who think they should not bear the burden. We serve the state because its the land of our fathers, where our parents and we fought so our children can live here.

Diskin told the crowd that because of them and because the court had decided that the Tal Law, which exempts yeshiva students from military service, the opportunity has been created to correct the injustice.

Speaking to reporters, Diskin said he opposed Mofazs presence at the rally, describing it as shameful, like a tycoon coming to [social protest activist] Dafni Leefs protests.

National Student Union chairman Itzik Shmuli called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to consider how history would regard him: as a politician or a leader.

The crowd gave its loudest cheers to Anette Khasakiya, a Muslim Arab Israeli mother of three, who said her eldest son finished his army service six months ago, her daughter serves in the education corps and is going to officer training, and her youngest son plans on enlisting in the Golani Brigade. I demand that the government not ignore us. We are citizens of this state, like the ultra-Orthodox. We dont want favors; we want to serve side-by-side, she said.

Dov Lifman, an ultra-Orthodox man, told the crowd he felt the ultra-Orthodox simply dont want the Haredim to be part of the Jewish people. When Lifman said he voted for Netanyahu, the crowd booed. He added that when Netanyahu knuckles under to the demands of the ultra-Orthodox it is a distortion of the Torah and its values. He also said many ultra-Orthodox Israelis want to serve in the army but they live in a prison.

Yoaz Hendel, former head of the National Information Directorate, and a former aide of Netanyahu said: we must not allow the politicians to flee to more and more studies and reports. We have suffered enough for the past 30 years.

Hendel addressed Netanyahu, saying the protesters had come because it is not enough to guard the country with weapons from military positions, the regular army and the reserves. It is also important to protect the country from shortsightedness, he said.

Protesters at the reservist rally in Tel Aviv.
Tomer Appelbaum