The Tal Law was declared unconstitutional by Israel’s High Court on Tuesday, spelling the end of the injunction which exempted ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from military service. While many have heralded the decision as a victory for equality and democracy, some feel that politics will ultimately restore the law in a different form to the ultra-Orthodox population.
Due to expire in August, the law was struck down due to its inability to bring about change in terms of the rates of ultra-Orthodox participation in the armed forces since 2002, when the law took effect. A number of prominent politicians voiced their content with the Court’s ruling, and cast the decision as the first step in the process to revamp the law regarding the recruitment of the ultra-Orthodox for the army.
“The Tal Law, after 10 years, did not meet expectations, nor did it lead to the required changes … concerning equally sharing the burden,” said defense minister Ehud Barak. Without the Tal Law, more than 60,000 should theoretically be coerced to join the IDF in August, when the Law is scheduled to officially terminate. For Barak and many others, the law has catered to the notions of equality which have incensed many Israeli for years, especially those who have watched their brethren die in combat as their more religious peers have uninterruptedly resumed religious studies in yeshivas.
“Apart from a certain improvement in the implementation of the law, one cannot say that the law’s means achieved their goals, and it seems that certain blocs influence its potential to be fully fulfilled,” wrote High Court President Dorit Beinisch in her opinion statement. “That being the case, one cannot but determine that the law is unconstitutional …. Originally the legislation harbored the hope that the law would launch a social process that without coercion would encourage ultra-Orthodox people to serve in the military or take part in national civil service. These hopes were dashed.”
Members of the Knesset commended the ruling as a much-needed position on the question of religious exemptions from army service. MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima) expressed her party’s position on the matter.
“Justice has been served,” began Livni. “Social justice necessitates sharing the burden. Kadima will initiate tomorrow a set of bills that will make military or civil service compulsory. We won’t allow the Zionist majority to become a minority that carries everyone else on its back because of Netanyahu’s coalition preferences, and his natural allies.”
“The Zionist majority must oust the government that enslaves our future to certain sectors that damage the general public. A government under my leadership would initiate legislation that would make service for all compulsory, and that is a commitment to the public,” Livni pronounced.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) gave more mild approval of the verdict. “It would have been preferable if the political establishment had reached the decision,” she explained. “Due to the consecutive failure of Israeli governments to guarantee mutual responsibility within Israeli society it was the High Court’s duty to stand firm and guard social consolidation, especially in such fateful times.”
Zahava Gal-On of Meretz unequivocally affirmed her party’s commitment to upholding the ideal behind the latest court ruling. “Meretz’s petition and the decision that the law is unconstitutional is a victory for the principle of equality,” Gal-On asserted. “The government in the last decade excelled in evading its duty to realize the principle of equality. The High Court correctly put an end to Haredi evasion of military service, and ordered the Knesset to put an end to discrimination based on blood.”
“The Knesset must pass a law that will be equal to all, making national, civilian or military service compulsory, allowing each citizen to serve according to his conscience and beliefs,” she added.
Some, however, dubbed the Court’s decision immaterial in terms of its long-term prospects. “The fact that this court dealt again and again with the issue of Haredi military service, without any progress being made as a result of the court’s ruling, does not add much to the standing of the High Court,” wrote Justice Asher Grunis in a minority opinion.
“It would have been best if the court didn’t have to deal with the issue; if it had been left in the public sphere beyond the court’s jurisdiction,” Grunis stated.
The Knesset is now left with the task of crafting a new law to appease both their religious and irreligious constituents. Most believe, with elections right around the corner, the government will be hard-pressed to effectively compel the ultra-Orthodox to join the armed forces. In essence, few opine the outcome of this latest ruling will mean that police officers will enter yeshivas to detain students who refuse to enlist.
“No-one can imagine sending the military police into the yeshivas and hauling off thousands of students to prison,” wrote Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz. “Israel will, by [August], be in the ecstasy of election season and the court will be forced to grant an extension.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the culmination of the Tal Law, and said his government would make efforts in coming months to install a more equitable arrangement. “As I have already declared, prior to the ruling, the Tal Law in its present form will not be extended,” the PM said. “In the approaching months we will formulate a new bill that would guarantee a more equal sharing of the burden of all parts of Israeli society.”