The Tal Law and its consequences

The Tal law is named after Supreme Court Justice Tzvi Tal, who was the Chairman of a Committee established in 1999 to investigate the situation of unequal enlistment in the IDF for Haredi (ultra-orthodox) and Arab citizens of Israel. This situation arose because at the beginning of the State, many Haredim and Arabs were declared exempt from military service. But, this had grown into a clear distinction between those two groups and other societal groups. The recommendations of the Tal Committee were enshrined in law by the Knesset in 2002.

But, the law failed to result in increased induction of either exempt group. SInce the law had to be reviewed after 5 years, it has come up for reconsideration. Several groups, particularly secular organizations have appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds of discrimination and indeed the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Tal Law as it stands is unconstitutional. Therefore, the Government is faced with the need to promulgate a substitute law that in order to adhere to the Supreme Court’s ruling, must be non-discriminatory. In other words, all groups secular, Haredi and Arabs must be treated equally in relation to induction into the IDF.

This is a problematical issue, since the Haredi parties in the Government coalition, including Shas and Torah Judaism, are against extending compulsory induction to the religious. They threaten to bolt the coalition and bring down the Government if their constitutency is not protected. They believe that religious young men should be in the yeshiva, not in the military. There are some on the right who also oppose the equal inclusion of the Arab sector because they fear their capacity for sabotage and refusal to fight against their Arab brethren. It should be noted that Druze and Beduin Arabs have been exemplary citizens in their service in the IDF. Also, the Arabs and others can participate in medical, administrative and educational service.

Since the introduction of a Tal Law replacement is so divisive and controversial, it is thought that Benjamin Netanyahu may make this an issue in his future platform of the Likud Party. In order to do so he will have to call for early elections. A possible date for an early election has been given as Sept. 4, this year. There are several other issues that might make this likely; Shaul Mofaz has just taken over as head of the Kadima Party from Tzipi Livni, and he is far more inclined to join a colation with Likud rather than remain in opposition. Also, the Labor Party has chosen a new head Shelli Yacimovitch, and Netanyahu would probably like to show that he can beat her.

The results of a recent poll carried out for the Jerusalem Post indicate that if an election were to be held today, Likud under Netanyahu would double its representation to 31 seats, Labor would gain a few at 15, Kadima would lose a few and Yisrael Beitanu under FM Lieberman would gain a few. The big losers would be the Independence (Atzmaut) Party of Ehud Barak, that split from Labor, that would gain no seats, and the far left Meretz that would receive only 3 seats. The religious (Haredi) parties would also lose votes. If these results stand after an election then Netanyahu might be able to form a new coalition with Kadima instead of Shas, and hence be able to introduce a new law that would equalize compulsory miltiary service for all citizens. This would be a revolutionary step in Israel.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.