The media-led campaign to blow up the coalition ran out of gas Sunday with the Likud’s adopting “in principle” a Kadima draft law proposal – with changes. The current Tal Law, which provides for army service as well as exemptions of young men learning Torah, expires at the end of the month after having been ruled unconstitutional by the High Court.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud, and Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz, leader of Kadima, “agreed on the establishment of a team to formulate the law on equality in sharing the burden and to submit its draft at the next Cabinet meeting,” they said in a statement on Sunday.
The team will comprise Mofaz, Kadima Knesset Member Yochanan Plesner, and Likud Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Plesner headed a committee that was on the verge of proposing a revolutionary change in the draft law to include virtually all Jews who previously were deferred from serving in the IDF in order to continue studying Torah.
The committee fell apart when representatives of several parties resigned over its conclusions, and Prime Minister Netanyahu officially dissolved the panel last week.
The ensuing political storm, fodder for the mainstream media’s anti-Netanyahu campaign, emboldened Mofaz to issue an ultimatum to Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom he called "irresponsible.” The Kadima leader clearly implied that he would pull his party out of the national unity coalition unless the Prime Minister agreed to adopt Plesner’s recommendations, which were announced at a news conference.
Dismal polls and the failure of the media to whip up a coalition crisis and enthusiasm for new elections quickly took the wind out of Mofaz's sails.
The lack of trust in Mofaz – or for any other politician – was evident in Saturday night’s rally in favor of Plesner’s proposals. Mofaz was roundly booed when he addressed the crowd.
Plesner’s draft bill focuses on sanctions against hareidi-religious Jews who do not enlist but was less specific concerning Arabs. Likud MKs filled the gap by accepting Plesner’s proposals “in principle” but adding that the issue of Arabs must be addressed more directly.
It is likely that no one except politicians will be happy over a draft bill acceptable to both the Likud and Kadima as well as Yisrael Beytenu, which wants a simply universal draft for all citizens, without any window dressing. Likud MK Gila Gamliel wants a new draft to include mandatory conscription of all women.
The resulting draft law is not likely to please “sucker rally” protesters who want a no-compromise end to deferrments for hareidi-religious Jews, although little mention has been made of thousands of secular Jews, including artists and athletes, who are exempt or otherwise dodge the draft every year.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said Sunday revolutionary changes requiring the draft of all hareidi-religious Jews must be done slowly and gradually.
In addition, the Israel Defense Forces is not equipped to suddenly enlist tens of thousands of hareidi-religious Jews.
The army provides special conditions to absorb many sectors of Israeli society – women, former criminals, disabled, new immigrants and others, and respecting the religious customs of hareidi-religious Jews in large numbers would be difficult to carry out in one blow.
Despite the media talk of demanding national service of Jews who learn Torah day and night, the universal draft proposal will have to come up with a solution to the thorny problem of enabling Arabs to serve.
Religious parties want it to recognize that the Torah learning level of yeshivas in Israel must not be adversely affected, implying that there have to be exemptions.
As with hareidi-religious Jews, the IDF is not equipped to suddenly enlist tens of thousands of Arabs, regardless of whether for military or civilian service.
Many Arabs with Israeli citizenship serve in combat and support units, but a growing number of Bedouin and even some Druze are active in terrorist cells and have used their army service to work against the country.