A father's message to the PM
My 12th-grader son wants to serve in one of the elite special operations units; why am I not more enthusiastic and supportive?
In the early 1970s, a few years before I was drafted into the army, a group of 12th-graders wrote a letter to the prime minister, Golda Meir, in which they warned that the rejection of Egyptian overtures toward a peace settlement was harming their motivation to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. The letter aroused a storm and a wave of public condemnation: How dare they question this preeminent value of our society - service in the IDF? The dust eventually settled, and a few years later the Yom Kippur War broke out. The story is known and painful, and there is no point in repeating it here.
Today, 12th-graders don't write letters to the prime minister. Nearly 50 percent of young men and women aged 18 simply do not join the military. There are a variety of reasons for their non-service. For some, avoidance of the draft - by way of Torah study - is legal; others have real or imaginary health problems; and so on. As a result, according to IDF figures, those bearing the burden today amounts to a little more than half of those eligible for the draft. And of this group, combat soldiers certainly account for less than a quarter, and they are the people who will serve as reserve soldiers for the next 25 years.
Fortunately for us, the country's population has grown, and the security threats have lessened, and IDF authorities are not making a public issue of non-service, but are making do with those who do show up to serve.
However, the issue here is not hard numbers in the military, but rather the future of Israeli society and the state, which you, Mr. Netanyahu, as one of Golda Meir's successors, currently lead.
I have a son who is now a 12th-grader, and his older brother will soon be completing his military service in a home front unit. The 12th-grader wants to serve in one of the elite special operations units or in the Paratroops Brigade. His father's history as a proud member of the Armored Corps has apparently not made a sufficient impression on him. The boy did come to me, however, to ask for my support and encouragement for his plans - which I gave him. But this sensitive teenager felt or heard the reservation in my voice, and wondered: Why am I not more enthusiastic, and giving him unequivocal support?
Well, Mr. Prime Minister, this letter is my way of answering him. It is hard for me to send him to the Paratroops wholeheartedly when I feel that the government you head is not doing everything possible to end the conflict with the Palestinians and with Syria. You might guess my political leanings from this, and thus be inclined to dismiss this argument as coming from "another leftist," but the issue goes far beyond one political position or another.
The issue is the erosion of the legitimacy of service in the IDF, as the conflict drags on, and in the face of the cyclical nature of wars in Lebanon (the first, the second and the third one on the way ); the operations in the Gaza Strip (innumerable ); the intifadas in the West Bank (the first, the second and the third, "if the negotiations break down" ); and so on and so forth.
The important point is that in my estimation, and the estimation of many observers, Israeli society is at a crossroads with respect to conscription into the IDF. Along the spectrum - between the message in David Grossman's novel "To the End of the Land," on the one hand, and on the other, the opinion pieces in Haaretz by Israel Harel and others who share his critique of the phenomenon of eroding motivation to serve in the IDF and to be willing to sacrifice on the country's behalf - are tens of thousands of Israeli parents whose children are facing the draft in the near future. The vast majority of them voted for you or for Kadima. The mainstream in Israeli society wants an agreement. Any agreement brought about by an Israeli prime minister who heads the Likud will be accepted by the Knesset and the populace by a large majority.
You have to choose soon between acts of leadership of historic dimensions, comparable to those of Charles de Gaulle, who took the French settlers out of Algeria, or of Menachem Begin, who evacuated the Sinai Peninsula settlements, even though he planned to make his home there. The alternative is that you will decide not to decide, like Meir, Israel Galili and Moshe Dayan, who led us into the war of October 1973.
And to Israel Harel and other leaders of the right, I have only this to say: Stop lamenting our supposed signs of weakness and unwillingness to sacrifice, and instead lend a hand to resolving the bloody conflict. More than half the nation is not with you and it will not be prepared to pay the price over time.
My 12th-grader and his younger siblings will serve in the army and they will get their parents' full support. However, if this conflict does not get moving in the direction of a solution, reconciliation and peaceful coexistence, the IDF will lose its right to be called a "people's army," and like every other empire in the past and in the present, Israel will be forced to enlist professional soldiers to defend its borders from the barbarians.
Dan Sagir is a Jerusalem businessman.