IDF personnel chief: All Israelis including ultra-Orthodox should serve in military

Major-General Orna Barbibai was speaking at Knesset committee meeting to discuss 'Tal Law,' which deals with exceptions from compulsory military service granted to ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Haaretz, Israel/January 23, 2012

Head of the Israel Defense Forces' personnel directorate Major-General Orna Barbibai said on Monday that the IDF should enlist every Israeli "into meaningful service."

Barbibai was speaking at a meeting of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to discuss the "Tal Law," which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer military service.

"There is no dispute that the challenging security reality demands that we enlist everyone into meaningful service," Barbai said.

According to Barbibai, one out of every four Israeli men and almost half of Israeli women are not drafted into military or national service. "These statistics indicate a need to conduct a thorough re-evaluation of the universal requirement to serve and equal distribution of the burden [of service]."

National Economic Council head Eugene Kandel, who represented the government in the discussion, took issue with Barbibai's statements, claiming the IDF would have difficulty absorbing additional ultra-Orthodox conscripts.

According to official IDF statistics presented by Kandel, the number of ultra-Orthodox conscripts to the IDF rose from 288 in 2007 to 1,282 in 2011, which he said exceeded goals set by the government.

Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) criticized the law and called to abandon it in its present form. According to Mofaz, only half of young people of draft age in Israel are actually drafted into service, and the number is expected to fall to forty percent by 2020.

"We cannot accept the norm that the peoples' army will become the army of half the people, and in eight years, the army of the minority of the people," he said.

MK Yohanan Plessner (Kadima), who heads the team charged with monitoring the law's implementation on behalf of the committee, said that instead of increasing equality, the law was bolstering inequality.

"We must put forward an alternative to the existing legislation, and we have a window of opportunity to create a new agenda," he said.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the law, which expires in the summer, will not be extended for another five years. However, following a disagreement with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the matter, Netanyahu later announced that the law would be extended for another five years.

Barak recently called to extend the law for one year, while formulating an alternative framework in the interim period. Under such a framework, he said, the IDF would choose who to draft, while everyone else would be required to complete a year of national service.

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