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National Service for All
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National Service for All

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

As he prepares the country for early national elections moving them up from October 2013 to this fall (between September and November), Netanyahu is trying to hit all the political buttons at the same time; including or especially the Iran button. So in the midst of a political debate over extension of the Tal law on required national service which exempts Arabs and full-time Yeshiva students in the charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community, Bibi has announced his intention to propose a change that would require Israeli Arabs to also perform a year of national service, but seemingly not the charedim.

While in principle this is a sound and legitimate proposal, one is struck by the fact that for 64 years—until recently—no effort even had been made to require national service from the charedim. Now facing the demand from Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitanu Party to amend the Tal law to require all citizens to do national service, Netanyahu can push the Arab button and let Lieberman walk. 

The politics of his making such a demand especially prior to the run-up to an election will be political suicide to his coalition (which he is dissolving anyway); a slap at the secularists (who want the charedim to serve and do not support him); a challenge to the opposition to respond (either way they do will be to their political disadvantage); and having the foreknowledge that he can drop the proposal after the election in order ultimately to keep the charedim in a new coalition.

At the same time there is something outrageous about this decision as far as the Arabs are concerned, considering the fact that his Government certainly has not distinguished itself in their overall attitude to Arab needs throughout the country. This does not even take into account the generally limited interest it has demonstrated towards the Palestinians and the peace process.

The passing of Benzion Netanyahu and the shiva period will undoubtedly postpone any movement on the pending legislation. Once Bibi returns to the political stage, one can expect even more of these machinations as he maneuvers to increase his mandate in a new election.

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