Last week the Supreme Court decided that the Knesset will not be able to extend the Tal Law, which will expire in August. This decision means that the ultra-orthodox youth will need to enlist in the army unless another arrangement is found.
There were 90,000 Israeli births reported in 2000. That number jumped to 118,000 births just a decade later. The increase in births is driven by the ultra-orthodox and Arab sectors, whose youth don’t serve in the army. There are some legitimate questions about whether the army can draft the ultra-orthodox, how the army will be able to afford the additional strain on its resources and where the ultra-orthodox will serve. These questions have not yet been answered.
Earlier this month the Knesset approved two bills authorizing the transfer of 1,850 mandatory draftees meant for military service to the police and an additional 1,300 mandatory draftees to the prison service. The Knesset previously passed bills that send mandatory draftees to the Israeli Mossad, Shabak, Defense Ministry and Border Police.
The Knesset’s National Union Party was the lone party to object to the two bills and pulled a mini-filibuster lasting almost six hours. Their main objection was that the government was turning the army into a contractor service, providing cheap labor to the Police and Prison Service at the expense of the youth serving their mandatory time. They accused the government of trying to save money by hiring draftees at a cheap rate of between NIS 350-400 a month instead of allocating funding to new positions in the various security branches.
Sarcastically, they suggested outsourcing soldiers to work as fire fighters, ambulance paramedics, coast guards, life guards, security guards at shelters for battered women and more.
An interesting conclusion is that through these two laws the army is saying essentially they are overflowing with soldiers and can spare thousands of draftees to other security services.
So on one hand we have politicians who say we need to draft the ultra-orthodox because the army needs more soldiers, and on the other hand we have the same politicians deciding the army has a surplus of soldiers, willing to disperse them to other security positions.
If the Tal Law is repealed, what will the army do with the influx of new soldiers? Perhaps the answer is national service, which could also be an option for the thousands of mandatory draftees currently serving outside of the army. Or there is always the list of places the National Union sarcastically suggested.
It was bad timing for the government and the opposition to support placing thousands of mandatory service-people outside of the army a week before the Tal Law would be repealed by the Supreme Court. Time will tell how the government decides to deal with the ultra-orthodoxy’s public service, be it in the army, national service or the yeshiva. However, the argument of an overflowing army that cannot absorb them is about to pick up steam.