Defense Minister Ehud Barak's proposal of an alternative to a controversial law exempting ultra-Orthodox men from military duty would grant the Israel Defense Forces discretion over who serves, and when.
Barak's law, known as "service for all," gives the IDF the right to draft whomever it wants. Anyone who is not drafted, according to the proposal, will be obligated to serve in the national service program for one year.
Coalition members are feverishly seeking an alternative to the Tal Law, which since 2002 has exempted ultra-Orthodox men from mandatory military service. The law was struck down by the High Court of Justice on Feb. 21 and will now expire in August. With possible early parliamentary elections looming, leaders are scrambling for alternative legislation.
The Tal Law was initially created to encourage young ultra-Orthodox men to enlist voluntarily, but has failed to increase the number of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men joining the army by any significant number. In the past, Barak suggested extending the law for one year, during which an alternative proposal would be formulated. Barak said 2,000 to 3,000 "Torah prodigies" should be allowed to continue their studies, but that all other ultra-Orthodox youth should take part in military or national service and then join the workforce.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he intends to propose a replacement for the law on May 9. Barak said he would submit his alternative during the Knesset's summer session.
Barak's current proposal would grant a deferral of the draft to 400 yeshiva students and would compensate those who decide to serve in the national service program two additional years, with the minimum wage, to enable them to continue their studies or acquire a profession. Those who do not opt for the additional two years will be expected to find employment after serving their year of national service.
"Only a broad agreement like this one will be balanced and fair for the entire society and for soldiers who serve in the IDF. Only this type of deal will provide a proper solution for this important issue for the country. We will always require a strong military, but will not always be able to draft everyone," Barak said on Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a closed meeting on Sunday he will present his own proposal for draft equality and would not necessarily embrace Barak's proposal. Netanyahu said a proposal would be formulated by August, when the Tal Law is scheduled to expire.
The meeting was held with several reserve soldiers, all of whom have signed on to a movement calling for equal distribution of the nation's military burden.
According to the prime minister, there are currently six proposals on the table, and the government will try to merge them into one viable plan acceptable to all.
Netanyahu said, "The distribution of burden must change. What was will no longer be. This is our second meeting in the past few months, and I know there are many hitchhikers who voted for an automatic extension of the Tal Law. I do not support that. The Tal Law will be replaced with a more equitable and correct law."
Netanyahu continued with a description of his pending proposal. "The new law will include national service for Arabs as well. We must do this without pitting one sector of society against another. The change will involve an increase in budgets, as well. This is a high-prioirty goal because it directly affects the country's security."
The meeting, which took place at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, was attended by reserve soldiers including Boaz Nol, Idan Miller, Yoav Kish, Zohara Berger-Tzur and Yotam Berger.
At the opening of the weekly cabinet session, Netanyahu informed government ministers of the meeting, and said, "Prior to the High Court's ruling, I said that the Tal Law would be replaced with another law, one that would distribute the burden more equally among Israel's citizens. I think the time has come for that."
When the meeting with Netanyahu ended, Miller said, "The fact that the meeting took place proves that public pressure is working and the prime minister understands that the public will no longer accept inequality in the distribution of the burden."
Nol added, "Netanyahu seemed very resolute when he said he would propose a replacement for the law. He is even willing to move up the elections in order to resolve the issue."
Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon said on Sunday, "The Tal Law is the reason we find ourselves in this situation today. It has the potential to be the middle class' downfall. The middle class works for a living, pays taxes, and serves in the IDF. The frustration of the people who are complaining is justified."
Also on Sunday, representatives of five parties submitted to the Knesset a proposal that would require every citizen who reaches the age of 18 to join either the IDF or the national or civilian service program for a period of three years. The initiator of the proposal is former Israel Security Agency chief MK Avi Dichter (Kadima), together with MKs Eitan Cabel (Labor), Einat Wilf (Independence), Aryeh Eldad (National Union) and Zevulun Orlev (New National Religious Party).
Dichter commented on his proposal, called "The National Service Law," saying, "Its aim is to create a framework that will provide a solution to the issue of draft dodgers from various sectors."