Israeli ultra-Orthodox say they won´t be drafted (AP) Associated Press) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/27/12 11:15 am ET)
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JERUSALEM – Ultra-Orthodox parties inside Israel´s government say
they will oppose any new law that would apply Israel´s compulsory
military draft to ultra-Orthodox men — a stance that bodes ill for
the stability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu´s ruling coalition.
Last week, Israel´s Supreme Court overturned a law that has helped
tens of thousands of religious men avoid military service and pursue
state-sponsored religious studies instead. The privilege has created
widespread resentment among Israel´s secular majority and encouraged
ultra-Orthodox men to become lifelong students, reducing their large
families to living off state handouts.
With a July deadline looming, Netanyahu is now racing to find a new
formula acceptable to the court and his coalition.
Netanyahu has promised to replace the so-called Tal Law with
legislation that would allow "a much more equal sharing of the
burden." If no new law is on the books by the time the old one
expires on July 31, universal conscription will presumably go into
Depending on both ultra-Orthodox and fiercely secular parties in his
government, Netanyahu faces a difficult task drawing up a new system.
In a rare show of unity, rival ultra-Orthodox parties met Sunday
night to join ranks against any modifications that would expose their
constituents to the draft. Israeli males perform three years of
compulsory military service beginning at age 18.
Ultra-Orthodox religious leaders believe their followers must spend
their days studying holy texts.
"We have no existence without Torah," the Haaretz newspaper quoted
United Torah Judaism party lawmaker Moshe Gafni as saying, referring
to the first five books of the Jewish bible. "We will give our lives
Although Netanyahu´s coalition partners have stopped short of
threatening to bolt, the court decision has threatened to shake up
the prime minister´s government by forcing him to choose sides in
this enormously divisive issue.
His foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman of the secular Yisrael
Beitenu Party, said Tuesday he would not agree to extend the old
law. "Not by a day, and not even an hour," said Lieberman, a critic
of the religious exemptions.
While Israel´s secular public has welcomed the prospect of ending the
draft exemptions for the religious, actually conscripting them will
be a difficult task.
The exemption, drawn up six decades ago to allow 400 exemplary
seminary students to continue their studies, has ballooned to the
point that tens of thousands of young men are now able to avoid the
draft. Absorbing such a large number of conscripts, most of whom have
few skills in the secular world, will be a challenge for the military.
Yohanan Plesner, a lawmaker who has chaired a subcommittee studying
the matter, said Tuesday that the old law expires on July 31 and
without new legislation, universal conscription would go into effect.
"That´s not realistic or practical," he said. "The military is not
prepared for it ... A different agreement must be made," said
Plesner, a member of the opposition Kadima Party.
He vowed to prevent a new formula to allow mass draft dodging. "There
should be no Tal Law Part 2," he said. (© 2012 The Associated Press
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