American Jews rightfully take pride in Israel’s democratic institutions, which often resemble our own. Occasionally, however, the resemblance is too close for comfort. Take for example the Knesset’s current paralysis when it comes to replacing the Tal Law.
This is Israel’s version of the do-nothing Congress.
Earlier this year, Israel’s Supreme Court struck down the Tal Law, which for decades exempted the nation’s ultra-Orthodox from mandatory military service. The court gave the government until Aug. 1 to craft a replacement bill that addressed this law’s inherent inequities.
With fewer than two weeks to go, the Knesset has yet to deliver that replacement. In fact, disagreement over the issue caused the Kadima party to break away from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s super-majority coalition, making resolution all the more difficult.
At the core of this controversy is a question of basic fairness. Should all citizens in a democracy take equal part in the defense of the nation? Since the founding of the state, two distinct sets of Israeli citizens — Israeli Arabs and haredim, or ultra-Orthodox — have not been required to share in that burden.
After decades of majority resentment surrounding the Tal Law, things have finally come to a head. Democracy’s day of reckoning has come. What will Israel do?
We know what it will not do. The right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party put forth a bill requiring all citizens to serve at age 18, with no exceptions. It was defeated resoundingly, 74-20, in the Knesset this week. So now, all parties understand that some sort of compromise must be hammered out.
Some politicians talk of quotas. Some talk of community service alternatives. But clearly, if Israeli society moves too far, too fast, chaos will ensue. Requiring thousands of Muslim Arabs to serve Israel, even in a non-military capacity, seems nearly impossible to enforce. And if enforced, it would surely lead to resentment.
Similarly, given the haredi community’s past willingness to engage in civil disobedience, pushing the ultra-Orthodox further than they are willing to go could result in extreme ugliness on the streets of Jerusalem.
And so the stalemate continues, and likely will until the last moment. Israel’s decision-makers understand what is at stake, and we feel confident they will draft a workable compromise before the clock runs out. They simply must.
It’s all part of the inherent messiness of democracy. Israel, still such a young country, needs time to perfect its own unique version.