Sunday, February 09, 2014

Universal draft

There is a social conflict in Israel between the Supreme Court, which is known for its liberal bias, and the ultra-orthodox (haredi) community which is certainly very conservative. The status quo that had existed for many years in relation to national service in the IDF was shattered in 2012 as a result of two events. First, the Supreme Court ruled that the "Tal Law" that had been in effect for many years and that allowed yeshiva students to get almost automatic exemptions was "illegal," and second the elections produced a government coalition in which the Yesh Atid party plays a big role and one of their main election promises was to introduce a universal draft law in which all segments of the population would be treated equally.

Ben Gurion was the first to introduce exemptions for the best yeshiva students, but over time the number ballooned from 600 to 60,000. This was unacceptable to most of the secular (hiloni) community in Israel, why should the haredim receive preferential treatment of exemptions and government subsidies, while the rest of the population is required to go out and defend the country and them. So after the Supreme Court struck down the status quo of the Tal Law, it was agreed that haredim would also have to serve. But, since they oppose serving in the IDF as destructive of their special way of life, it was obvious that merely passing legislation to force them to serve would not in fact work. They would refuse, they would fight it en masse and they would go to jail if necessary. Also, the IDF itself was not enthusiastic to have tens of thousands of uncooperative haredi recruits, even though a small number of them do volunteer (and are often harrassed for it). So there was a deadlock, that was overcome thru negotiations between various political parties and pressure groups, that resulted in a new law that requires yeshiva students to register for military service on their 18th birthday, but they can get a deferral of up to 3 years with a financial subsidy while they are studying.

However, this law was challenged in the courts by the hiloni organizations that want a completely equal universal draft, and last week the Supreme Court ruled that this compromise arrangement is also unlawful and struck it down. That means that haredim who register on their 18th birthday must be drafted and they cannot be deferred or paid. As a test case one haredi man was arrested for not registering, and this resulted in country-wide protests of tens of thousands of haredim, including students of many yeshivot. There was some violence and the police stepped in and arrested 15 haredim, all of whom will be charged with disturbing the peace and other crimes. This of course upset many more haredim, and now it looks as if there will be a protracted nation-wide conflict until the conditions of a universal draft law, that includes Israeli Arabs as well as haredim, is approved.


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