Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Teves 5761 - December 27, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Barak Equivocates: Tells IDF to Prepare Draft Plans and Appoints Committee to "Improve" Tal Law
by M. Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Prime Minister Ehud Barak instructed the IDF on Sunday to prepare groundwork within the next 60 days for drafting chareidi yeshiva students. Trying to straddle the fence and keep all options open, at the same time he appointed Minister Michael Melchior to head a panel that will recommend "improvements" to the controversial Tal bill.

Last week the High Court of Justice decided not to grant an extension to the Knesset to make legal arrangements for the draft status of yeshiva students, who currently receive deferments (see details below).

Melchior has not yet said he will accept the appointment, saying that the discussion of chareidi military service needs to be divorced from the upcoming election.

Barak said he would seek changes to the Tal Bill based on the following principles: that no one will be forcibly drafted; that those not drafted will serve in their communities within the framework of national service; and that "those who give more will receive more" from the state, in terms of monthly stipends while in the army or national service.

At the same time, the Knesset is on track to pass a law next week that would let the defense minister continue to issue deferrals to yeshiva students for the next four months. Under a compromise worked out by House Committee chairman Sallah Tarif (One Israel), Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, and Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen, another ad hoc committee has been established in the Knesset to prepare the four-month deferral bill, sponsored by Cohen. The committee is to meet on Thursday to prepare the bill for its first reading, after Tarif insisted on holding an official discussion on the move.

Tarif has agreed to put the bill to a first reading next Monday, the Knesset's last session before it goes on election recess. If the bill passes a first reading, Tarif has pledged to push it through to its second and final readings the same day. However, as a committee chairman he could use his power to maneuver a delay in legislating the temporary measure.

During the Knesset recess, Tarif can convene the ad hoc committee on the Tal legislation to prepare the bill for its second and third readings. The government can also call a Knesset session to put the bill to a vote.

According to the Hebrew edition of Yated Ne'eman, the initiative by the Shas MK came as a result of pressure exerted.

Barak and many One Israel MKs oppose the four-month bill. However, it is expected to be approved with the support of religious and Arab MKs, and the Likud.

The Ruling of the High Court

In a 9-2 ruling of an expanded court of eleven justices on Wednesday, 23 Kislev, the Court refused to grant the Knesset a fourth extension to arrange legislation concerning military exemptions granted to yeshiva students. Concomitantly, the Court did not obligate the army to draft yeshiva students immediately, but allowed it time to prepare itself for such a step. However, starting Wednesday 23 Kislev, the Minister of Defense is not authorized to sign deferrals for yeshiva students who fall under the category of Torasam umanusam as has been done for more than 50 years.

Nine of the justices of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Aharon Barak, were with the majority that refused to grant the additional extension. Two of the judges, Mishael Cheshin and Yaakov Turkel, dissented from the majority verdict.

In his written opinion, Justice Barak criticized the procrastination which took place regarding the passage of legislation, and delineated the developments of the events since the first ruling on the issue two years ago, as well as the previous requests to grant the Knesset an extension to pass a law. The Court said that the underlying issue is essentially political and shouldn't be decided by judges.

In its ruling, the High Court acknowledged the difficulties created by both the security situation and the coming elections, but rejected them as justifications for granting an extension as well as the argument that the IDF needs more time to prepare. Aharon Barak attributes the real reason for Knesset's failure to extend the current arrangement even temporarily--while it considered more permanent legislation--to its own internal political divisions.

In his ruling, Chief Justice Barak also rejected the request of UTJ Knesset members Rabbi Ravitz, Rabbi Gafni, Rabbi Litzman and Rabbi Halpert, to join the appeal. Though they wanted to secure an extension for arranging the pertinent legislation, he says that the MKs should have joined the deliberations a long time ago when the substantive issues were being decided. The fact that UTJ was excluded from the deliberations meant that the Court could respond only the Government and the Knesset which have dragged their feet on passing a bill, and not to UTJ which has exerted extreme efforts to push through legislation.

At the end of the verdict, Justice Barak wrote: "Under the circumstances, in which more than two years have passed since issuing our verdict, we cannot grant an additional extension." However, he did say the court would allow the Israel Defense Forces a "reasonable period" in which to prepare itself to implement the ruling. The court does not expect the IDF to act "from one day to the next," wrote Justice Barak.

Justices Mishael Cheshin and Yaakov Turkel dissented, with Cheshin basing his dissent on the political-security situation and Turkel on the army's need for time to prepare.

In respect to Barak's refusal to include the chareidi MKs as responders in the appeal, Cheshin also disagreed with the majority. He wrote: "We must remember that our decision was not and is not just an ordinary decision. It is a unique decision, a decision with deep consequences in the life of the State and the community of Israel. In common parlance one could say that this decision has broad and deep consequences. The special character of this decision justifies hearing those MKs who represent the community upon whom our decision touches immediately."

Shas leader Eli Yishai said that the Knesset must ensure that yeshiva students can continue to study, and should not "use them as hostages" for political purposes.

UTJ MK Rabbi Avraham Ravitz said that the fact that the High Court keeps on referring the matter back to the Knesset is to be welcomed. " . . . the High Court should not intervene in matters affecting values and principles. Such matters should be left for the Knesset. If at the outset the judges would have said that this was a matter for the Knesset, and not made a time restriction, that would have been totally in order. But to write a judgment and make a time limit is unacceptable. At a time when the Knesset is about to go into recess because of the elections, the judges come along and say, `Go to the Knesset,' leaving the court's judgment hanging over our necks."

He says that the Knesset must pull itself together and act courageously, by postponing any decision on the matter for another four months, as by then the elections will be over. All of the religious MKs--both UTJ and Shas--agreed not to join any coalition government before this matter is sorted out.

Rabbi Ravitz said that the politicians and army know that these decisions won't provide the army with even one more soldier, but they are capable of creating such chaos that will make it impossible for us to live in this State.

"If they insist on drafting, they will not get any soldiers out of it. The prisons would be filled with geishas. What would they do with this large group of people? Israel would become the only country in the world which does not let its population study Torah. They have been trapped by their own dogmas.

"Some people claim that chareidim have to obey the law like anyone else. My reply is that there are also other laws, such as the Law for the Prevention of Fumes from Diesel Engines. Does anyone obey this law? And then you have the law that forbids work on days of rest. Do citizens obey this law and close shopping centers which are open on Shabbos illegally? There are more powerful things than laws: `For they are our life and the length of our days, and we will delve in them day and night.' There is no alternative. They will have to come to an agreement with us."

UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni also said that the army won't gain a single soldier as a result of the High Court's decision and yeshiva students engaged in full-time learning will continue their studies with dedication come what may. "The only question is, how much harassment will the chareidi public have to endure." Furthermore, he says the court is acting illogically in calling for legislation on such a sensitive and fundamental topic during an election period when the whole political system is in a state of chaos.

MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), said: "It is a very bad signal to Israeli democracy that our High Court is interfering in such a very political issue and exercising such judicial activism."

Rabbi Gafni also accused Ehud Barak of not taking care of the proposed law and of letting his own personal considerations and electioneering take precedence over his responsibility towards the State and to the delicate relations between different population sectors in the country.

"Now the High Court has made a ruling, at a time when the Knesset is in the middle of legislative proceedings on this matter, and Barak is still not presenting the law for a vote.

"I am also surprised by the actions of Shas who, when agreeing ten days ago not to support early Knesset elections, did not make it an absolute condition for their support that the law be brought to a vote, and all the legislation be enacted in the form of a Temporary Provision.

"I hope that the Prime Minister will come to his senses, and put a stop to this ongoing fiasco by completing legislative proceedings for a Temporary Provision by means of a Bill sponsored by the government."

The bill set forward by Iztik Cohen to extend the current system of deferrals by four months came up for a preliminary reading on Sunday and passed 45-16. Barak arrived to vote against the proposal. Likud leader Ariel Sharon voted in favor, reversing his vote against the exemptions last summer, which had angered chareidim. The bill was approved with the support of the religious parties, the Likud and Arab parties. Shinui and Meretz voted against it. One Israel MKs were split on the vote.

The IDF is not hiding its preference for this bill. They consider the current situation in the territories and the amount of time and resources needed to carry out the necessary preparations for the drafting of chareidi soldiers into the ranks of the IDF to be the main problems at this time. The most the IDF has done is prepare a list of conscripts to be called up.

According to a court ruling on December 12, 1998, the arrangement granting yeshiva students automatic deferrals from military service had created a sense of inequality in Israeli society and was illegal.

When the arrangement was first implemented in 1954 by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, approximately 400 yeshiva students were affected. Now the figures have grown to include some 14,000 bochurim.


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