Netanyahu, Mofaz Seek Compromise On Equality Of Burden Law


netanyahu-and-mofazIsrael Hayom reports: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz of Kadima continued butting heads on Thursday as they searched for an alternative to the Tal Law, which exempts ultra-Orthodox citizens from mandatory military service, and worked on a solution to keep Mofaz’s Kadima party in the coalition.

Politicians expressed optimism that a solution to the pressing issue would be found.

After the recommendations of the Plesner Committee – which was tasked with advancing equality in the national burden and was disbanded earlier this week by Netanyahu – were publicized on Wednesday, Netanyahu said, “We are on the verge of a historical change in Israeli society. The situation that existed until now cannot continue. Ultra-Orthodox men must be integrated into the military and both the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli-Arab sectors must be integrated into national service programs as well. The conclusions that were submitted include important principles along those lines but more fundamental attention must be given to the integration of Israeli-Arabs in national service.”

Following his announcement on Monday that he was disbanding the Plesner Committee, Netanyahu started putting together his own proposals for an alternative to the Tal Law. On Tuesday afternoon, Mofaz and Netanyahu met behind the scenes, in the wake of Kadima’s threat to withdraw from the coalition. Netanyahu asked Mofaz to “concentrate on getting the law passed that would advance equality in the sharing of the burden,” promising that the Plesner recommendations would serve as a guideline in the legislation process.

“I intend to submit a proposal for a bill that will address both the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs. The aim is for the bill to receive a majority of votes in the Knesset, and to have a bill that will be able to be implemented as well,” Netanyahu said.

He said he was “determined to bring about a dramatic increase in the participation of the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs in the sharing of the national burden. We will not allow a situation to continue in which those who do not serve are seen as equals to those who do serve. Draft-dodgers will not receive the benefits set aside for those who do serve.”

Close advisers to Mofaz said that Netanyahu’s statements were not enough. One adviser said, “Mofaz was disappointed with Netanyahu’s remarks, which did not constitute an acceptance of the burden-sharing committee’s principles and fell short of the clear message of service for all. His remarks were an attempt to avoid the challenge of rectifying the illegality and injustice of granting a blanket exemption from service to the ultra-Orthodox community. Israeli citizens expected clear statements from the prime minister. This is the time for actions, not words; for decisions, not games.”

Likud members said Netanyahu tried to open a new channel to Mofaz to signal to him that they could achieve an agreement on the issue. But one member said that until Mofaz’s demands were clarified, Netanyahu would not announce his unconditional acceptance of the Plesner Committee’s recommendations.

Likud MKs denounced Plesner, claiming he compiled a “personal” report. “He released the report even after professional public representatives refused to sign onto its conclusions. Plesner wrote the important recommendations, like personal sanctions against draft-dodgers and the concluding section of the report, without holding any discussion on the issue,” a Likud MK said.

At a Kadima meeting in the Knesset prior to the presentation of the report’s conclusions, Mofaz questioned Netanyahu’s method of handling the matter. “The committee was established as part of the coalition agreement. This is the first test of our partnership with Netanyahu. The announcement of dissolving the committee was a unilateral move and a blatant violation of the terms of our entry into the government. I made it clear that we will not accept this,” Mofaz said.

In what seemed like an ultimatum, Mofaz declared, “I expect the prime minister to adopt the committee’s principles. This is a condition for our partnership in the government. If not, we will not be able to explain ourselves to our children. We are not trying to hound ultra-Orthodox communities. I am not hostile to those who declare that their profession is Torah study. It’s time for a new agreement between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Israeli society. I am not in need of a lecture on morality. The ball is in Netanyahu’s court, and we are talking about a matter of days.”

A source from the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu and Mofaz would meet on Thursday, and Netanyahu would also meet other coalition party leaders in an attempt to forge an agreement acceptable to all parties.

Netanyahu met with Interior Minister and Shas leader Eli Yishai on Wednesday, after members of Shas largely rejected Plesner’s conclusions. Some members of the party did say, however, that some conclusions would be acceptable to them. It is believed that Shas may be willing to support personal sanctions on yeshiva students who refuse to be drafted for military service, but to a lesser extent than the committee recommended.

Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) told Israel Radio on Thursday that gaps between his party and Kadima over haredi enlistment were not large and that he believed they would reach an agreement. Elkin said the Likud party agreed with the principle of punishing draft-dodgers, and that haredi leaders understood they had to compromise, otherwise they could face a universal conscription law, which will take effect next month upon the expiration of the Tal Law. He said all parties, including the ultra-Orthodox factions, were prepared to begin negotiations immediately on the subject. Sources in Kadima told Israel Radio they did not present Netanyahu with an ultimatum but that they expected a solution to be found by next Monday that would keep them in the coalition.

One senior Shas member said the entire report should be shelved, but talks with Netanyahu could yield some feasible solutions. “Everything depends on the numbers and we must understand how to work with them. We can impose sanctions, but we must define on whom we should impose them and the extent of the penalties. We can draft yeshiva students, but the question is how many,” he said.

The report was criticized by parties on both the Right and Left. Opposition and Labor party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich said, “The Plesner Committee press conference had no value whatsoever and was part of a campaign to deceive the public, and was a political puppet show. This show must be stopped immediately. They may as well have held a press conference about a trip to Mars. There is no doubt that Plesner had good intentions and some of his conclusions are correct. But they pale in comparison to the truth of the cynical cooperation between Kadima and Likud, the aim of which is only political survival.”

Energy and Water Resources Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) said, “Plesner’s decision not to relate to the issue of drafting Arabs for military service and to pass the matter to another committee gave birth to a new Israeli democratic principle: unequal equality.”

Meretz chairwoman Zahav Gal-On said, “This is Kadima’s swan song. The useless Plesner-Mofaz report was meant to perpetuate Kadima’s useless stay in the government. Instead of suggesting a fair national service law for military and civilian service, the intention of the report’s conclusions was to legitimize the plague of discrimination.”

Ultra-Orthodox parties denounced the conclusions as well. MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said, “There has never been so much support for evil as we saw in this report. In the name of equality, it would have been correct to cut NIS 7 million from the budget for higher education to punish students who dodge the draft, and to impose personal sanctions on them.”

Gafni met President Shimon Peres on Wednesday to discuss ways to solve the issue of drafting more ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF. On Thursday, Peres said, “It is time that all of the nation’s citizens partake in carrying the national burden.”

Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) wrote on his Facebook page, “Plesner’s presumption of understanding complex processes in the haredi community led him to extreme conclusions which would bring about the closing of 80 percent of institutions of Torah study within four years. In four years, you can’t change processes that have existed for 60 years. I understand that a part of the Israeli public does not comprehend those who prefer to study the Torah, but we totally believe that Torah study differentiates us from other nations and is what makes us special.”

Read more coverage at ISRAEL HAYOM.

{ Israel Bureau}