Israel’s politicians were taken by surprise on Tuesday when the Tal Law, which granted ultra-Orthodox men an exemption from Israel’s compulsory military service, was deemed unconstitutional and annulled by the High Court.
The Tal Law was approved in 2002 to encourage ultra-Orthodox men to enlist voluntarily in the Israel Defense Forces, but in reality allowed tens of thousands to avoid serving altogether.
Coalition members warned that the court’s decision would result in a political earthquake, but also pointed that there are still six months before the ruling takes effect for lawmakers to formulate an alternative. The conflict pits the parties of Yisrael Beiteinu and Independence - who favor all-inclusive nationwide recruitment into the IDF - against those of Shas and United Torah Judaism, who favor selective recruitment with exemptions for those who prefer full-time study of the Torah to military service.
In a meeting between Shas party leader Eli Yishai and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled for Wednesday, the two are expected to attempt to formulate a new law that will be acceptable to both sides and settle the issue permanently.
“The Tal Law failed because the government did not invest enough in its implementation,” Yishai said on Tuesday. “The ultra-Orthodox Nahal Haredi brigade is still waiting for two additional battalions to be enlisted and dozens of ultra-Orthodox want to join the civil service, but the government has not allocated enough funds for that.”
MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) said on Kol Hai Radio, “What does ‘unconstitutional’ mean? There is no constitution in Israel and the word is only fictional here.”
In a statement, United Torah Judaism said, “In any case, those for whom Torah study is their profession will continue to study the Torah, because the world exists through their merit.”
Ultra-Orthodox parties believe that if a new law is not formulated by the summer, the High Court may accept a proposal to allow yeshiva students to avoid military service because by then, the president of the court will be Asher Grunis, who gave the minority opinion in the High Court’s decision on Tuesday.
Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon commented on the issue, saying “We must find a way to integrate young ultra-Orthodox men in the security establishment and afterwards in the work force as well. But we have to achieve this through talks.”
Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman said his party would present an alternative to the Tal Law in the coming days, based on a draft being formulated by Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beitenu).
Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni said her party will propose a law that will require every citizen to serve either in the military or the civil service programs.
Meretz congratulated the High Court and “its decision to accept a petition submitted by Meretz party leaders and other organizations in 2002.”
Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich said, “I am glad that the High Court is forcing the government to legislate a new and more relevant law. Labor will mediate between the parties to ensure the legislation of a law that is innovative and can be executed properly.”