IDF readies to enlist haredim
Army prepares to recruit ultra-Orthodox soldiers after decades of granting sweeping exemptions; expiration of Tal Law could triple rate of haredi enlistment, officials say
For decades, the IDF would send haredi youths preliminary draft summons before granting them exemptions under the Tal Law. With the legislation set to expire on Wednesday, the IDF is gearing towards enlisting the ultra-religious individuals, starting with an extensive sorting procedure that includes a variety of tests.
Officials involved in the process postulate that the development will lead to the recruitment of 7,500 ultra-Orthodox soldiers each year, a number three times higher than the current rate.
The expiration of the law, however, does not mean that the IDF will automatically stop exempting all haredim from service; changes to the current draft regulations are unlikely to go into effect before 2013.
A team consisting of Defense Ministry legalists and IDF human resources officials has recently drafted an interim directive meant to allow legislators extra time to come up with an alternative to the Tal Law, after attempts to draft such legislation in recent months failed.
“We are looking into the military’s needs, and are discerning who is fit to be recruited while listening to the public’s just demands for equality as well as the army and the haredim’s demands,” a senior member of the committee told Ynet.”(Defense Minister Ehud) Barak instructed the army to expand programs for ultra-Orthodox troops and to raise their salaries, which would replace the allowance that they currently get.”
The political system appears to have given up on the issue, tossing the hot potato over to the defense establishment. The Knesset went into summer recess, and Minister Moshe Ya’alon, whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put in charge of dealing with the draft legislation, has recommended the immediate establishment of new programs for the enlistment of haredim, instead of waiting for a new law.
Protesters call for universal draft
On Tuesday evening, activists belonging to the Suckers Camp, a movement demanding the enactment of a universal draft, intend to give out flowers on the streets of Bnei Brak, a predominantly religious central Israeli city.
The protesters also intend to distribute faux draft summons calling on potential ultra-religious soldiers to integrate within the army.
“The duty of service in the State of Israel applies to all of us… This is a mighty opportunity for all of us to create one society, under on law, where everyone serves the state,” the leaflets read. “No one wants to enlist you forcefully; no one wants to alter your way of life. We are brothers; we always have been and always will be.”
The National Student and Youth Council has also joined the battle, sending Netanyahu a strongly-worded letter urging him to enact universal army service.
“Don’t let Zionism turn into cynicism,” wrote Yuval Kahlon, the chairman of the council. “We don’t care about politics, we only care about how our lives will look like in a future State of Israel. How do you expect us to proudly fulfill our duty with this blatant discrimination tearing at our immense motivation?”
Various protest movements are expected to join forces on the weekend to call for the equal sharing of the service burden and to express objection to the recent tax hikes.
“The decision to favor the ultra-Orthodox interest over the general public’s interest when it comes to the draft question, the failing attempts to dissolve Kadima and the outrageous financial edicts are like spitting in the public’s face,” said Idan Miller, who heads the unified protester camp.
After Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi factions quit Plesner Committee, Netanyahu tells Arab lawmakers ‘there is a new reality in Israel, and everyone must share the burden’
“Arab citizens, along with the haredim, must carry their equal share of the burden,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday evening, shortly after the Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi factions announced their decision to quit the Plesner Committee.
Earlier it was reported that the committee, which is debating alternatives to the Tal Law, will likely recommend that the State not require Israeli Arabs to perform military or national service.
“There is a new reality in Israel, and everyone must share the burden,” Netanyahu told Arab lawmakers, adding that he will object to draft exemptions.
Lieberman informed Netanyahu that his faction would halt its cooperation with the committee and would bring to a vote in the Knesset a bill authored by MK David Rotem that would make national service mandatory for all sectors of Israeli society, including Arabs.
Yisrael Beiteinu called the committee’s decision “damaging to the importance of equal service” and said that the faction believed that there was only one way to achieve an equal share of the burden, and that was to draft every citizen at age 18: secular, haredi, and Arab alike.
A source close to the prime minister said that committee chairman MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) “made a discretionary mistake when he voted to keep Arabs out of the bill. His mistake led to this crisis.”
The source said “Lieberman and Netanyahu see eye to eye on this issue. There must be a mandatory daft for both haredim and Arabs.”
Netanyahu told the Arab MKs he would not bring to a Knesset vote a bill that does not require Arabs and ultra-Orthodox to enlist in the army. “It’s a matter of principle, and I am against exempting Arabs or haredim from army service,” the premier stated.
“There is a new reality in Israel, and everyone must share the burden,” he said.
PM Netanyahu is expected to meet with his deputy, Shaul Mofaz, to discuss ways to resolve the political crisis surrounding the committee’s recommendations.
Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, head of the religious Habayit Hayehudi faction, told the PM its representatives were leaving the committee over the decision not to require Arabs to enlist.
“Those who receive from the State must also contribute to it,” he said.
“Without the Arabs’ contribution – there is no equal distribution of the burden.”
The exemptions granted from service can be lifted one segment at a time, until all Arab citizens share the ultimate obligation of citizenship with the rest of Israel’s citizens.
The basic flaw in the Tal Law was that it provided legislative justification for continuing a situation where not all of Israel’s citizens were obliged to participate in the defense of the country. Although the intentions of the members of the committee that recommended the law were the best - to provide incentives for at least some ultra-Orthodox young men to do their military service or enter the workforce, and thus gradually improve if not rectify an intolerable situation - they did what is unpardonable in a democratic society. They legalized preferential treatment for some citizens on the basis of their religious affiliation.
As it turned out, the law did not even achieve the limited goals that had been set for it. The “improved” Tal Law, whose passage is the first objective of the expanded coalition, is intended to do more of the same: as proposed, it will legitimize the exemption of ultra-Orthodox young men from military service even as it attempts to decrease the number of those exemptions.
Equality of rights and equality of obligations is a fundamental tenet in a democratic society. It is sometimes honored more in the breach, but deviations from this principle when they exist should not be given legitimacy by being enshrined in the book of laws. Discrimination should not be legalized, even if on occasion it exists in practice. Where it exists it should be eliminated as fast as is realistically possible. Legislating laws that permit discrimination is not the answer.
There’s no denying it: Correcting a situation where massive exemptions from military service have been given to ultra-Orthodox young men for many years poses seemingly insoluble problems. Common sense dictates that the correction will have to be carried out gradually. But does that mean the inequality that has existed for so long must now be given a legal stamp of approval, even as part of an attempt to rectify the situation gradually? Does this mean an additional element of discrimination should be introduced by offering ultra-Orthodox young men the opportunity to choose national service instead of military service, an option that is not offered other young men being drafted into the military? Whatever measures are taken to correct a long-existing inequality, that inequality should not be compounded by legalizing it.
All of Israel’s citizens are equal. So why is the uproar over exemptions from military service focused only on ultra-Orthodox Jews? An even larger number of Moslem and Christian Arab citizens do not participate in the defense of the country as do most Jewish and all Druze citizens. For years they have been exempted from military service by an administrative decision taken by the defense minister year after year, just like the exemptions granted to the ultra-Orthodox. It is a gross deviation from the principles of equality that are the foundation of any democratic society. And yet it is passed over in silence.
It is sometimes suggested that you cannot expect Israel’s Arab citizens to participate in the defense of this country against its Arab enemies. Can you expect Arabs to fight Arabs? it is asked. As if Arabs were not fighting Arabs all over the Middle East. As if the Israel Defense Forces’ Druze soldiers are not among the its best, and forgetting that the Bedouin infantry battalion is doing an excellent job in the south. (And forgetting, too, that the Iranian ayatollahs who threaten Israel with extinction are not Arabs. ) As if Israel’s Arab citizens should be granted all the rights of citizenship without taking on all the citizen’s obligations.
Here, too, common sense tells us that the solution must be gradually applied. It so happens that this is easier to do than in the case of the ultra-Orthodox. Israel’s Arab community is heterogeneous - Moslem and various Christian denominations, Bedouin, urbanites and villagers. The exemptions granted from military service can be lifted one segment at a time, until all Arab citizens share the ultimate obligation of citizenship - defense of the country - with the rest of Israel’s citizens.
The goal must be universal military service. It can be reached gradually, but not by legalizing inequality.