The claim that the moment the Tal Law expires on July 31 all ultra-Orthodox men of army age will have to join the Israel Defense Forces — and if they don't, they will be labeled criminals — is deceiving the public.
The Tal Law was thrown together sloppily because the situation that prevailed prior to its approval, when exemptions were handed out lavishly by the government, collapsed in a series of petitions to the High Court of Justice. But if the government does not find an alternative to the Tal Law, the situation will go back to what it was then, and draft dodging will increase, and years will pass until the injustice is rectified.
The 88 pages of Plesner's report do not provide a perfect solution to this pressing problem, but they do reflect serious thinking on how to bring about essential change in the way the security burden is shared in this country. Its tone is serious and its suggested implementation gradual.
It's hard to understand why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stumbled when he forced the Plesner committee to dissolve, but he did release a statement on Wednesday saying that those who served would receive more benefits than those who refused to serve. His statement may have been a signal to start negotiations with Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, who said he would wait until July 9 for Netanyahu to accept the committee's recommendations, or else he may leave the coalition.
Plesner's conclusions are not necessarily the final word on the matter of a more equitable sharing of the burden. Its principles are rigid, but the numbers are not. Two essential matters in the report require correction or clarification.
• Imposing personal sanctions against ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students who fail to show up for army or national service is problematic. Does this mean that every young person can get out of military service in exchange for money? (Still, Plesner's report only relates to haredi draft dodgers.) Not one destitute yeshiva student will return thousands of shekels he received from the government during his time in yeshiva. Therefore, the penalty for draft dodging must be passed forward, for instance by withholding national insurance payments, driver's licenses, admission to universities and employment in government ministries or companies.
Before Netanyahu discusses this matter with Mofaz, he will hold an important meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman, who is scheduled to return to Israel Thursday morning.
• Second,it is imperative that obligatory service be imposed on Israeli Arabs as well. An Arab draft dodger should also lose all those benefits graciously provided by the government. The framework in which Arabs serve will be a topic for negotiations until the end of 2012. The negotiations will be led by Netanyahu, who will be charged with determining the pace at which changes are implemented.
This is the bare minimum that will allow Kadima to survive in Netanyahu's coalition. A cloud of division hangs over Mofaz's party, but if the government immediately adopts Plesner's conclusions, at least some members of Kadima will no longer have an excuse to break away.
For Netanyahu, this could be an opportunity to stand at the helm of the political ship, just as he did two weeks ago. Accepting the committee's conclusions will enable him to refute claims made by Kadima, Yisrael Beytenu and Yesh Atid. The Likud could grow to 35 mandates or more in the next elections and could even poach votes from Kadima, Yesh Atid and other political rivals. But if an acceptable solution to the burden-sharing issue is not found — as opposed to mere lip service — this could present a serious stumbling block to the Likud leadership.
If I were Netanyahu, I would study the case of Yoav Kish, a combat and commercial pilot who was appointed to the Plesner committee and then sacked from that committee (and who is a leading voice in the social protest movement). The prime minister would benefit greatly from listening to this man, a strong advocate of social justice and equal sharing of the burden, who proudly announces at every opportunity that "I am a Likudnik."