Reports of Yeshiva Army Plan Set off Political Chain Reaction

Israeli legislators from across the political spectrum are criticizing the reported recommendations of a commission probing how and if to draft yeshiva students into the army.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz and Israel Radio reported Monday that the Tal Commission was about to present its recommendations on the matter.

According to the reports, the commission will recommend that yeshiva students be given a year to leave their studies and do as they please, including working. Whoever does not return to yeshiva at the end of the year would continue to work or be drafted based on personal considerations and family status.

The head of the commission, retired Justice Zvi Tal, said the reports were premature and that he did not expect the commission to complete its work for at least another 10 days. He added that portions of the reports about the panel’s recommendations were wrong.

His remarks, however, came only after the media reports set off a political chain reaction, with legislators from both the right and left calling the supposed recommendations insufficient and demanding new legislation to deal with the issue.

“I was hoping the commission would find a way to steer the students toward the army, instead of perpetrating this inequality, in which only a select part of the population bears the burden of serving,” said legislator Eli Goldschmidt, a member of the Labor Party.

“This doesn’t resolve anything. It returns us to square one,” said Likud Knesset member Meir Sheetrit.

However, legislator Avraham Ravitz, a member of the fervently Orthodox United Torah Judaism bloc, said the reported recommendations of the Tal Commission were “the right thing.”

The Tal Commission was formed in the wake of a 1998 ruling by the High Court of Justice that canceled a decades-old arrangement under which yeshiva students are entitled to army draft exemptions.

The justices said at the time that the arrangement, which has sparked tensions between secular and fervently Orthodox Israelis, had created a growing sense of inequality in Israeli society.

In 1954, when the agreement was signed, some 400 yeshiva students were granted deferrals.

According to recent estimates, there are now some 30,000 yeshiva students getting deferrals and draft exemptions.

Efforts to resolve the issue with legislation have hit political minefields, particularly with the fervently Orthodox parties in the Knesset.

Prior to his election as prime minister, Ehud Barak supported enacting legislation to draft yeshiva students, but he later deferred to the Tal Commission in an effort to resolve the matter outside the Knesset.

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