After years of debate, pressure and protest, on Sunday Israel’s cabinet approved legislation to draft ultra-Orthodox men for national service. The lobby that agitated for legislation has been quick to label it a sellout, counter-productive, and a passing of the buck.
Pro-draft activists say that they wanted a law that makes service for Haredim compulsory immediately, while the actual legislation defers compulsion to serve until 2017. And as they point out, this means leaving the big task of implementing the draft until after the next elections.
They are right to be disappointed, as the government did promise to deliver the draft, and all it looks set to do is deliver the blueprint for one which may or may not end up being implemented after the next national poll. But in their pessimistic forecast they overlook an important fact.
They successfully pushed the issue of the draft to center stage in the last election, and made it a key campaigning issue. They created the unexpected scenario where the distribution of power meant that a coalition could be built that excluded Haredi parties, and legislation proposing a Haredi draft could actually pass the cabinet. This is further than any government has got on the issue in 65 years.
The government’s dragging out of the issue doesn’t mean it will get lost — but that it will probably dominate another election.
The parties in this government can’t go to the public ahead of the next election with just a general pro-draft position. Implementation time for the draft plan will be approaching, and the public will want guarantees that they will see through implementation. The draft issue is too electorally lucrative for them to abandon it — and to allow the parties to benefit from it the public will want a promise of further progress.
It is, indeed, rather cynical that the government is putting off implementing the draft until the next elections, but this doesn’t mean it is shelving the plan — but rather that its parties want to squeeze the electoral benefit out of it for a second election. If the pro-draft lobby keeps the pressure on, then the next election could all be about the implementation of the Haredi draft. True it will have taken two elections not one, but they may well yet succeed in forcing a government to take the challenge of implementation seriously.