Israelis March En Masse For Fairer Draft Law
Protests, Kadima Party force Bibi to promise real concessions
These days you don’t get tens of thousands of Israelis marching in the streets for any of the many issues that get the most attention stateside—not on the peace process or the Palestinians, not Iran, not the Arab Spring. Rather, they come to protest the high cost of living, and particularly housing, as we saw last summer; and, they come, as they did Saturday, to protest the government’s inability to institute a law that requires greater military or civil service from the Haredi (and, for some, Arab) communities. The protest drew about 20,000 to a march in downtown Tel Aviv. And it’s this issue that threatens to cause a crisis for Prime Minister Netanyahu, who now struggles to keep intact a coalition that includes one party (Kadima) that joined the coalition precisely in order to craft a fairer replacement for the unconstitutional Tal Law, which currently governs conscription; another party (Yisrael Beiteinu) clamoring for stricter requirements for Haredim and Arabs; and a smattering of religious parties that care about little except that the status quo on issues like conscription be kept as is.
Netanyahu, who only a week ago was refusing to cave in to demands for substantial changes to the way things are currently done, is now scrambling to co-opt the reformists’ demands. Last week, he disbanded the committee to replace the Tal Law when it became clear that the committee would recommend substantially increased ultra-Orthodox enrollment in the Israel Defense Force. Yesterday, he appointed the old committee’s head, Yohanan Plesner, to co-chair a new committee is supposed to finish its work within the week, and which already has secured the support of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Netanyahu himself. “Neither the army, the economy, nor society can continue on the current path,” the prime minister said. “We are citizens of one state, and we must all participate in bearing the burden of service to the state.” (There is something hopeful in Bibi’s neurotic need never to be too unpopular: in some ways it’s the essence of democratic republicanism to always do exactly what the people want at that very minute.)
The real story is how Shaul Mofaz’ Kadima has been able to exert real power from within the coalition even though, when it joined two months ago, it was merely giving a majority an even wider margin—it could leave the government tomorrow and the government would still be functional. Haaretz’ Yossi Verter articulates whence Kadima’s power derives: “Were Kadima to quit the government in response to suspension of the work of the Plesner Committee and the shelving of its plan for a new national service law,” he writes, “Netanyahu would earn the image of a politician who capitulated to the ultra-Orthodox on an issue that raises powerful feelings among the public: a fair and equitable distribution of the burden of army service. Indeed, if there is something that worries Netanyahu, it is running for reelection in the guise of the defender of Haredi draft evasion.”
Verter reports that Bibi’s last best hope lies with the Shas party, which is in his coalition, and unlike most religious parties represents Sephardim—even the most religious of whom tend already to serve in the army. Shas’ spiritual leader has called for extra prayer—no, really—to save the ultra-Orthodox from universal conscription. But the party’s political leader, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, may prove more amenable. Of course, he’ll then probably want something in return. And it may well have to do with one of the issues that get noticed all the way over here.
Tens of Thousands Call for Equal Draft Law for All Israelis [Haaretz]
Premier Vows Exemptions in Israel Draft Will Change [NYT]
Netanyahu Is Looking for a Magic Formula [Haaretz]
Earlier: Netanyahu Uneasily Weathers Tal Law Storm
Plus political battle looms in Egypt, and more in the news
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at email@example.com. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.