Beyond the Cusp

July 9, 2012

Israeli Draft Law After Repeal of Tal Law

Former Supreme Court President Dorit Benish’s term as the highest judicial figure in Israel was a gift that just kept on giving. Even now, months after she retired and was replaced by Justice Asher Dan Grunis, there remains one monumental challenge from one of her final acts, repealing the Tal Law which allowed adult Hareidim Torah Scholars to be excused from IDF and Public Service. Since the repeal of the Tal Law there has been a feeling of impending doom as the different political camps hold tight to their various views, many of which are completely at odds with the rest. The religious parties are insisting that a new law be enacted which would continue to allow the exemption for all Hareidim who are engaged in Torah studies. The national Zionist camp insists that should the Hareidim be included in the mandatory service, either military or public service, then so should the Arab, Muslim, Christian, Druze, and all other peoples even to the smallest minority groups (I believe that would be the members of the Bahá’í Faith). The leftist elites are boisterously protesting for an immediate forced induction into the IDF of all being of military age Hareidim immediately or arrested and sentenced to extreme terms of imprisonment even before a new law has been debated, let alone constructed through the legislative process. And the Hareidim are split with the majority remaining mostly silent and choosing not to enter the fray while a fair number are boisterously adamant that they should retain their preferential status and some even declaring intent to take the consequences for their refusal to enlist or serve if drafted. All of this begs a number of questions in order to clarify what has become a hot potato which many news sources within Israel claim has the potential to fracture Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition so completely that it will cause a vote of no confidence, calling for early elections.

What is interesting, even if predictable and expected, are the cross accusations coming out of this debate. The liberal leftists claim that almost every Hareidim has been abusing the Tal Law and were not seriously studying Torah but instead using an appearance of Torah study in order to avoid any form of mandatory service. The Hareidim and the national Zionists have refuted this claim pointing to the significant increase of Hareidim and Orthodox Jews who have voluntarily enlisted in the IDF, many of whom chose to serve in the combat and elite units. The truth in this argument is that there has been a marked increase in Hareidim and Orthodox enlistments in addition to the Hesder Yeshivas which take a middle of the road approach with the students splitting their time between IDF service and Torah study. These Yeshivas do not serve in the IDF for as long as a regular inductee due to the sharing of their time between two mutually exclusive obligations. It is rather difficult to have your head buried in intricate Torah commentaries while also practicing marksmanship at the rifle range, even trying such would result in people getting seriously injured. There has been one additional consequence of the current increase in Hareidim and Orthodox Jews serving in the IDF and the idea of forced service placing a sizable increase in Hareidim and Orthodox Jews serving in the IDF that comes from the liberal feminists. Since the Hareidim units are required to be all male, the feminists have complained that enlisting more Hareidim into the IDF will actually hurt female enlistment and opportunities. Even when it is pointed out that the majority of the Hareidim enlistees choose to serve in combat arms where so few women serve that it should not pose any unsolvable difficulties for women; the feminists present an argument that it would be an impediment if women should suddenly decide en masse to be recruited into combat arms units.

Equally resolute, the national Zionists hold that should the Hareidim be pressed into service, even against their will, that Arabs and others who either are not required to do any volunteer service or groups that have found political protection or an option not to serve at all be equally pressed to serve. The majority from this camp is not demanding that the Arab and other minorities be forced to join the IDF should doing such offend their social, political, moral or religious sensitivities, but for them to, at a minimum, do public service. Some have proposed that such enlistees be assigned to perform their public service in their home communities and by doing such extend the ability of the State of Israel to better serve the entirety of its population. The response to this proposed solution from the extreme left has been near apoplectic rage asserting that removing the privileged status of complete deferment from the Arab community would be not simply unthinkable but cataclysmic in its nature. The retort from the national Zionists has been to continue to promote the ideal of what is good for the goose is good for the gander or something like that. This particular part of the debate will likely prove to be the most difficult to find an agreeable and workable compromise that will be acceptable to both sides. The ultimatum that the new law only applies to Hareidim and Orthodox Jews and allows the Arab Israelis to continue to have no obligation for service may result in Kadima departing the coalition it just recently joined. It is this potential for a split that has so excited Labor Party Leader Shelly Yachimovich that she has started announcing her intent to propose a motion of “no confidence” against the Netanyahu Government and even promise her constituency that early elections are right around the corner. Her exuberance will prove to be overly optimistic as even should the entire twenty-eight seats Kadima holds leave the current coalition; it will simply leave the original coalition’s narrower majority in place and the Netanyahu Government would stand.

How will all of this tumult work itself out? There are likely as many different opinions and possibilities as pebbles in the Negev Desert. It makes no difference which side appears to be the most logical, or the most equitable, or the most feasible; it will most likely be the most cumbersome, unworkable, complicated and illogical collection of seemingly contradictory definitions that will inevitably be produce such that everybody appears to have gotten what they insisted included while effectively not changing much if anything at all. Such is often the result of any legislation pounded and crafted by a parliamentary coalitional government which is comprised of so many varied parties from widely divergent viewpoints and constituencies all vying for their own specific interests. This was evidenced by how quickly the Plesner Committee fell apart with one party after the other dissolving their participation over the intransient positions taken by the leadership. This same stubborn, resolute resolve by the Kadima membership and perfectly embodied in their leader, Shaul Mofaz, has been evident for all to see as Kadima Chairman Mofaz has thrown down the gauntlet threatening to bring down the government should the position held by the membership of Kadima be enacted with no amendment thus allowing for a law which will enforce strict and extreme punishment on Hareidim and Orthodox Jews who refuse IDF service while not only not making a single demand upon Arabs or other minorities, but actually strongly restating their preferential treatment under the law. Just like Labor Party Leader Shelly Yachimovich, Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz also holds the mistaken belief that the coalition cannot stand should Kadima pull their support from the government. This prevailing mistaken hope that Kadima has sufficient seats in the Knesset to bring down the government and force early election is simply another symptom that seems to be common among people who enter into politics that the entire governing bodies would be unable of accomplishing anything without their individual input and approvals. I’m sure there is a word for such thinking, and I believe it is megalomaniac. There is also a phrase for the usual actions produced by a parliamentary government, and I believe that is complicated, nonsensical gibberish.

Beyond the Cusp

July 3, 2012

Plesner Committee Drafting New Tal Law Dissolved by Netanyahu

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday scrapped the Plesner Committee, tasked with drafting a replacement for the controversial Tal Law. The committee was in response to a ruling by the Supreme Court striking down the Tal Law removing the longstanding deferment for Hareidim from serving in the IDF or perform public service as other providing they were in full time Torah study, forcing a replacement be found by July 31. This initiated a response from Kadima party chairman, Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, threatening to quit the government if Netanyahu did not follow through with the committee’s recommendations. Mofaz was quoted saying, “I reject the announcement of the prime minister and pledge my full support to Plesner’s committee. The committee was formed by all the parties together, and its unilateral dissolution by the prime minister does not obligate Kadima (to comply. These recommendations are) the basis for any real attempt to fix the historic problem of the unequal burden. If the prime minister chooses not to go in that direction, the national unity government will end.”

This is likely how this story will be presented along with the seeming mandatory references to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his heavy handed, dictatorial style of leading his coalition. Never mind that MK Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu Party walked out of the committee over their refusal to even address a recommendation that Arab Israelis also be included in required IDF or public service the same as the Hareidim as both have similar deferments. Add that Habayit Hayehudi (Hebrew for “Jewish Home”) also decided that they were being shut out and ignored as they also believed that the committee should be at least looking at universally equal treatment under the new law. Shas and United Torah Judaism Hareidim religious parties’ representative Attorney Ya’akov Weinroth also withdrew from the committee though his motivations were considered suspect as he might have been insistent on a new version that would be a carbon copy of the struck down Tal Law. There was an obvious problem with the make-up of the Plesner Committee from the beginning and from this writer’s perspective it did not come down to as much the dictatorial imposition by Prime Minister Netanyahu than it was the attempts to dictate every iota of the new law by the Kadima leadership in the committee and Shaul Mofaz, the leader of Kadima who likely interpreted the mandate given by Benyamin Netanyahu as a license to lord over the committee and write whatever law he pleased while ignoring any input by other Parties’ representatives assigned to the committee. This may be the beginning of a fraying of the coalition as the nationalist and religious parties are not going to ever form a cordial relationship with the liberal members in Kadima. It might even get to a point where the strengthening of the coalition by merging Kadima will lead to Yisrael Beiteinu and numerous of the other current members will depart over the necessary catering that will be required to keep Shaul Mofaz and the Kadima Ministers content. Such an exodus would completely defeat the entire move of folding Kadima into the coalition and could lead to total collapse.

There is one result of dissolving the Plesner Committee which might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This has presented Prime Minister Netanyahu with a golden egg in the form of Kadima Head Shaul Mofaz threatening to pull Kadima out of the coalition. The first and most obvious result would be to allow him to make good on his threat and continue with the narrower coalition that includes a more homogeneous combination of parties. But the most likely advantage would be for Prime Minister Netanyahu to call Shaul Mofaz’s bluff and once again announce that he plans to call for new election should Kadima depart the coalition. Such a threat would silence Shaul Mofaz as he is fully aware that with new election Kadima loses half of their seats in the Knesset and such a loss is not something Shaul Mofaz desires or could survive. Such an occurrence might very well cause a vote of no confidence by the membership of Kadima and a new election to choose a new party chairman. Sometimes it is best not to scream too loudly in public when the soapbox you’re standing on has broken boards and is about to collapse.

Beyond the Cusp

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