A Coalition Collapses
Tue, 07/17/2012

So much for Israel’s coalition government, which lasted all of two months.

Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz announced Tuesday that he was taking his party and its 28 Knesset seats out of the government over the failure to reach a compromise on the proposed draft law that would have done away with many of the existing exemptions for haredim and Arab Israelis.

All the more shame because it seems that the various parties had been agonizingly close to resolving an inequity built into the system at the birth of the state in 1948. At that time Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion placated a segment of the Orthodox community by waiving army service for the several hundred full-time yeshiva students, no doubt thinking their numbers would remain very small. But more than six decades later the ranks of the exempt yeshiva students has swelled to an estimated 50,000, virtually all of them haredi young men who believe that they are protecting the state spiritually through their exploration of the Talmud.

Adding to resentment for them among the majority of Israeli society is the fact that the young men are non-Zionist and, with no other income, living on government grants.

The existing Tal Law, granting the exemptions, has been ruled illegal, and the Knesset has only until Aug. 1 to come up with and pass new legislation.

Mofaz explained that he was willing to compromise, but his red line was delaying military or national service to 26, insisting that would be a “make believe” form of equality because in haredi culture, most young men are married and have children by that age, exempting them from service.

While Mofaz asserted that “there is no choice but to decide to leave the government,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sought a more gradual change in including haredim into service, insisting that otherwise the dramatic shift would create serious social unrest in that community.

There is real merit in both arguments. But in Israeli politics it is difficult to separate out the issue at hand from the constant jockeying for power. Already there is talk of Netanyahu calling for early elections; the national vote is set for October 2013, but it is more likely to be moved up to this winter. And some say Mofaz pulled out because he saw he was having little influence in the coalition and sought an excuse to leave on his own.

The pity is that Israel desperately needs a more equitable form of national service, whether military or social/educational, that would include haredim and Israeli Arabs.

But compromise for the good of the society as a whole does not come easily to politicians in Jerusalem — or Washington, for that matter. And we all suffer for it.

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