Soldiers' benefits mustn't come at the expense of Israel's minorities
The lawmakers behind the softened version of the Contributors to the State bill haven’t grasped the ethical failure such a law's very existence entails.
The softened version of the Contributors to the State bill, which was approved Monday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, was supposed to eliminate the worst of the discriminatory excesses of the original version of the draft law. The constitutional flaws of the bill's earlier version were pointed out by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, among other.
The original bill, which was sponsored by coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin, was also approved by the ministerial committee, over the opposition of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Health and Minister Yael German. Its provisions included preferential treatment for military or civilian national service veterans in admission to higher education, in government hiring (and wages and benefits), and in residential building rights. Weinstein ruled that the bill would cause injury to population groups that already suffer from severe discrimination and would violate the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom.
The new version, which was drafted in consultation with Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon, provides for “softer” benefits, such as letting soldiers in uniform jump the queue at entertainment venues, giving preference to military or nonmilitary veterans in allocating university housing and limited preference in real estate tenders. Nevertheless, it seems as if Levin and many cabinet ministers still haven’t grasped the ethical failure such a law's very existence entails.
The Contributors to the State bill in effect constitutes systematic discrimination, in every walk of life, against entire population groups that are by law exempt from compulsory military or civilian national service. No democracy can accept such discrimination, especially when it affects already disadvantaged communities, namely Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews. The fact that military service is compulsory for a large part of the population does not justify a law that would have far-reaching consequences on civilian life, far beyond the military realm.
Many cabinet ministers have declared a fervent wish for more Arabs and Haredim in the workforce, even calling this goal a “national project” that could have a dramatic impact on the national economy.
Blind, a priori discrimination is not the way to achieve this integration. It will only create alienation and anger in these communities, sending the message that the state is lending a hand to their discrimination.
It is indeed worthy to reward those who contribute to the state through military or civilian service, but the way to do so is not by discriminating against other groups. The cabinet and Levin must draft a new bill that would recognize the contribution of veterans, such as paying higher salaries to soldiers during service. That is the only way the benefits offered in this bill will outweigh its costs.