Dispute over military conscription for ultra-Orthodox Jews reaches incendiary point
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Since its legislation on July 23, 2002, the “Tal Law” kept most ultra-Orthodox Jews out of the IDF. Several lawyers and the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel asked for the nullification of the Tal Law since it discriminated between ultra-Orthodox Jews and secular Jews, by giving the first group the choice to enroll in the IDF voluntarily. Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice is an unusual law establishment; it usually operates as the highest appellate court in the country, but it features also a special operational mode as a court of first instance, called in Hebrew bagatz (acronym for High Court for Justice, not to be confounded with the formal name of the court: The High Court). In this instance, everybody under the jurisdiction of the court can initiate a process against the State of Israel, if he feels one of his rights has been legitimately oppressed by the State. This can happen because Israel lacks a Constitution; thus, the Knesset can legislate laws that anywhere else would be considered illegitimate (for example Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People). Accordingly, on February 21, 2012, the Supreme Court annulled the “Tal Law,” with a majority of 6 justices against 3. Dorit Beinisch, then president of the court, supported the decision: “we can help to bring a gradual change,” she said. Asher Dan Grunis, the current one, opposed the decision. He said that he thought that the Court will bring Haredim to serve in the IDF is “an illusion.” “It doesn’t help the status of the Court, we won’t bring change,” he added. He was right.
Israel Defense Forces
The Tal Committee was appointed on August 22, 1999 by then Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. It dealt with the special exemption from mandatory military service in the IDF given to ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim and Hasidim). It was headed by Justice (ret.) Tzvi Tal; thus it was named after him. Based on the committee's recommendations, the abovementioned Tal Law was passed by the Knesset. It enabled the continuation of the IDF service-exempt given to yeshiva members (“yeshiva”-literally “sitting” in Hebrew-is the name of Jewish religious colleges). At the age of 22, yeshiva members would receive a year of decision in which they would need to choose to continue their studies or to go to work. Those who choose to go out of the yeshiva and work would need to choose between a minimalist army service of four months, and then reserve duties according to the army’s needs, or a civilian service of one year. The service would be done in special IDF units organized according to religious needs, like Nahal Battalion 97 (the IDF features several ethnic units, see Explosion in Sinai). The Tal Law had failed to change the enlistment practices of Orthodox Jews. By 2005, only a few dozen ultra-Orthodox Jews enlisted in the army as a result of the law; by the beginning of 2012, the number was still below 900. In 1974, only 2.4% of high school graduates about to enroll in the IDF were exempt because they were yeshiva members. In 1999, they were 9.2%; this percentage is projected to be 15% this year. These numbers are a clear sign of a very benevolent discrimination by the State of Israel towards Haredim and Hasidim. Yet, the same secular Jews who petitioned the High Court on their own behalf, do not oppose other types of discrimination enforced by the IDF towards minorities.
For many years, ultra-Orthodox Jews were automatically exempted from the IDF. Then, Ehud Barak decided to change the situation when he created the Tal Committee. Unwittingly, he shot himself in the foot. At that moment he transformed a minor issue into a future political tsunami. There was no doubt that any conclusion adopted by the committee would be challenged in Court. Secular Jews and Haredim couldn’t agree on this topic. That is exactly what happened, secular Jews challenged the committee's recommendations, and the Supreme Court had no choice but to nullify a clearly discriminatory law. That meant the Knesset is forced to legislate an alternative law.
Yet, only the very naïve—or those unacquainted with Jewish Orthodoxy—could believe this utopic scenario. Haredim and Hasidim are deeply divided politically. This religious divide is further split by ethnic issues, creating a very complex mosaic. None of the mosaic tiles could be the first to give up on the issue of the forced conscription of its electorate. They refused any compromises and began speaking of a rebellion against the Zionist regime. This was serious. Israel exists as the result of an unholy coalition between secular Zionists and ultra-Orthodox Jews, which is known as the Messiah’s Donkey. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was one of the Orthodox Jews who created the basis for cooperation between Zionists and Pharisees. He claimed that secular Jews, represented by the Zionists, can take the place of “Messiah Son of Joseph” as a collective entity, creating the base that would allow the Pharisees—the Orthodox Jews—to produce the “Messiah Son of David” in the new and secular state. Netanyahu has been always under the pressure of this group. They are fanatic enough to bring a new war to the Middle East. The fact that the Military Rabbinate is planning the Third Temple and other related events are just a reminder of that. Eventually, Netanyahu surrendered and offered a compromise to Kadima, its main Zionist partner in the coalition. Mofaz refused and left. In the following days the Knesset must pass a new conscription law; probably it will closely follow Netanyahu’s proposal. Eventually, the ultra-Orthodox will cement their exclusion from the IDF through legal backdoors likely to be added to Netanyahu’s initial proposal.
However, the damage is done. These days, the secular Jews are passing through a year-long crisis, to the extent that an Israeli Man Set Himself on Fire a few days ago. Secular Jews feel they are being exploited by the rich and their government, and then, requested to carry on their lean backs the plump ultra-Orthodox Jews. Moreover, after a decade-long attempt to equalize the conditions between these two groups, it is now clear to all that this won’t happen in this generation. An unbridgeable gap has been created between the two social groups that the State of Israel is based on. Crumbling from inside on issues related to social inequality, there is nothing that can help this apartheid state to survive. Ask any South African.
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