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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Tal law quietly marches on

The pernicious exemption of large sectors of the Israeli public from military service perpetuates itself, against a background of public apathy.

Hail to the draft dodgers
By Nehemia Shtrasler

In a normal country, discussion of the issue would have immediately climbed to the top of the agenda. Here it is difficult to compete with the huge headlines generated by the Zeiler Committee and with the nerve-racking drama that ended with the security forces successfully preventing a terror attack in Tel Aviv. Thus two important decisions made by the Israeli government this week were pushed aside: The extension of the Tal Law and the establishment of a civilian national service authority.
So the perfect solution has been found. With one hand we will glorify the evasion of service in the Israel Defense Forces and with the other we will establish new and expensive mechanisms to turn national service into the new "melting pot" of Israeli society after we have destroyed the IDF's old "melting pot."
The Tal Law was born in sin. Its only purpose was to place a seal of approval on discrimination. In the 1950s, when the exemption from IDF service for yeshiva students was enacted, there were 400 young men who would keep the flame alive. However, in 1977, then prime minister Menachem Begin made the fateful mistake of surrendering to the pressure of the ultra-Orthodox and canceled the numerical restriction that had been in force until then.
At that moment the dam burst. The number of yeshivas and of those receiving exemptions began to soar and this year it will reach 11 percent of potential draftees.
In 2000 the Tal Committee proposed that the discrimination be institutionalized. A yeshiva student would be able to leave at the age of 22 (if he so desired) for a year of making decisions outside the yeshiva, and at the end of the year, he would have to decide whether it was desirable to serve for a year in the IDF or in national service and then begin a life of work, or to return to the yeshiva.
And what happened? In the context of the Tal Law, which was instituted four years ago, only 155 yeshiva students have been drafted to the IDF thus far.
This is a tiny fraction of yeshiva students. And really, why should they leave such a comfortable and protected hothouse?
The simple and cruel truth must be told. The yeshivas serve as "cities of refuge" for those who don't want to endanger their bodies and souls. Their students don't want funeral processions leaving from the homes of their parents and they don't want their parents to lose sleep.
In May 2006, then president of the High Court of Justice, Aharon Barak, ruled that the law to postpone military service undermines equality and human dignity and causes discrimination and deprivation.
But even that did not prevent the government from cynically extending the draft evasion law for another five years, in order to establish national service in the interim. In so doing, it added insult to injury.
This is the latest craze in the market place. A kind of magical solution that is supposed to make Israeli society happier and more egalitarian.
The service, so the naive believe, will erase the Arabs' feeling of deprivation and will bring the Haredim closer to the secular community.
In order to attract young people to "national service," the government will offer them conditions identical to those a discharged soldier enjoys, including tax exemptions, subsidized loans and study stipends, after they devote an entire year of their lives; not three, heaven forfend; to national service.
This is in effect a track that competes with service in the IDF, whose establishment will necessarily increase the evasion of military service. After all, this track is devoid of personal risk, while being both legitimate and also granting monetary benefits.
In order to run the service and supervise those who serve, a new network will be established, which will of course include branches and districts. This means that the government bureaucracy, which we are so eager to limit, will grow and become inflated. Does anyone seriously believe that it is possible to penetrate the Haredi community to check how many hours a young Haredi man is devoting to national service? (See for example the sentence of Shas' Ofer Hugi). And who can check the work of a young Arab in his village? And where exactly will a "melting pot" be created here?
"National service" will harm those who receive low salaries; employees of the health and welfare services; whom these young people will replace without pay. Their salaries will be lowered and some will be ejected from the work force.
But the most absurd aspect of this move is the fact that this is voluntary service. If they wish to, they'll serve, if they don't wish to, they won't serve. There is no compulsion. In other words, this is stupid and harmful competition with the many volunteer organizations that presently operate quietly and efficiently in many spheres. Even now, any young person who so desires can volunteer for activity in the community. So why allow the government octopus to go in and destroy the magnificent voluntary sector that exists here?

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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