Tal Law Could Bring Down Government in Wake of Plesner Commission

n Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shut down the Plesner Commission that was supposed to revamp the controversial Tal Law, causing threats for a complete shutdown of the Knesset.

The Tal Law is one of the most controversial laws in Israel in which Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs are exempted from military service.  However, the law also prevents those groups from integrating because military service is often the gateway to employment in Israel, thus creating a cycle that has led some to call for a professional army rather than a “People’s Army”.

Under the current law, Yeshiva students may defer military service for a period of time.  However, the ultra-Orthodox has until recently used this law to avoid military or civil service of any sort.  The law was initially geared towards a small number of Yeshiva students who wished to study rather than serve and was agreed to by Former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion when the State was established.  Since then, the number of exempted has skyrockets from around 400 to nearly 60,000.  The Tal Law was declared unconstitutional earlier this year in February by the Supreme Court, who demanded a new law be passed by the end of July.  The new law regarding IDF service was to be formulated by the Plesner commission in concert with the Knesset.

The Plesner commission was made up of MKs from the left, right and centrist prties in the Knesset, but has had problems since its formation.  After three member of the commission resigned last week as did the representative for the Haredi Bloc, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to shut the commission down.  The members who resigned said that they resigned because the restrictions on ultra-Orthodox Jews would not apply to Arabs.

Reactions to the shutdown were varied although most bordered on anger.  The most vocal response came from the Kadima party who demanded that Yeshiva students be sanctioned by the government with heavy restrictions until they either serve in the military or in civil service.  Kadima members also threatened to pull out of the current government coalition and potentially call for new elections.  Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz warned that if universal service is not established for all citizens, he would bring down the government by removing his party from the coalition.

The Haredi parties also attacked the shutdown, calling it “cheap populism”.