Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the king of spin. By mere words, he can turn black to white and failure to success. He is capable of standing on the outskirts of a city, gazing in the direction of the rising sun and claiming that it is now night. Moreover, he would be armed with well-thought-out explanations and dazzling verbal pyrotechnics to explain his position.
This week, he handed Shas and United Torah Judaism an enormous gift: He legitimized evasion of army service by all yeshiva students who reach the age of 22. But to the rest of the nation, he announced that he had achieved just the opposite: a revolution that would actually result in conscripting yeshiva students into the army.
Last month, he decided to continue paying stipends to married yeshiva students, thus circumventing a High Court of Justice ruling that deemed the payments discriminatory. But he informed the general public that the payments were being capped: Yeshiva students would only receive the money for five years.
Two weeks ago, Netanyahu won approval for a two-year state budget that grants the ultra-Orthodox enormous subsidies and other benefits. Yeshivas were given NIS 1.1 billion. To that must be added the NIS 1 billion given the independent school systems run by Shas and UTJ, which will enable these parties to continue depriving their students of the core curriculum while inculcating them with anti-democratic, anti-Zionist values. But Netanyahu boasted of how good - even excellent - the budget was.
Netanyahu certainly fancies himself a Zionist and a patriot, but in reality, he is neither. He is undermining the state's fundamental values by enabling wholesale exemptions from military service for the ultra-Orthodox. He is exacerbating hatred between different population groups by perpetuating the situation whereby ultra-Orthodox parents can sleep well at night, but secular and religious Zionist parents won't be able to sleep at all after hearing about exchanges of gunfire in the north or south. A situation in which military funerals are held in all parts of the country save Bnei Brak and Mea She'arim cannot go on.
Netanyahu is pulling the wool over the public's eyes when he speaks of doubling the number of ultra-Orthodox conscripts by 2015. For he is talking about an increase from the ridiculous number of 2,400 to the equally ridiculous number of 4,800. This is a drop in the bucket given the tens of thousands who will receive wholesale exemptions.
Moreover, an ultra-Orthodox youth who does enlist in the army will not perform the standard mandatory three-year stint in the Golani infantry brigade or the Armored Corps. Rather, he will only have to do an abbreviated 16-month stint - or he could opt for a two-year course that offers extensive technical training. The state will invest NIS 130 million per year in ultra-Orthodox soldiers, each of whom will receive a salary of NIS 4,000 per month, while run-of-the-mill soldiers receive NIS 400-700 per month.
But this is nothing when compared to that mother of all spins known as "national service." For the plan would not really require 4,800 yeshiva students to begin army service. Rather, it calls for half the number - 2,400. The other half would register for "national service," which is just another means of transferring an additional NIS 70 million to the ultra-Orthodox.
For who will monitor what is really going on with "ultra-Orthodox national service?" Who will verify how the money is spent? As we all know, income tax officials are fearful of going into Mea She'arim.
Reports have surfaced recently about fictitious yeshivas and the enrollment of students who do not exist, all in an effort to siphon off more funding from the "tyrannical" government. Other recent reports have described ultra-Orthodox youths who perform their "national service" inside the yeshivas, where they "tutor" those younger than they. This "service" will give birth to an enormous system run by the ultra-Orthodox themselves, which will grant them more fake income while denying them the tools needed to be productive.
There are many who fantasize about ultra-Orthodox youth working in hospitals, the fire department, even the police. This is a ridiculous urban legend. Nobody needs them there. What is needed are professionals, not nuisances who will disrupt the work - if they even show up to begin with.
Such national service could also have an adverse socioeconomic impact. For what will happen with those already employed at these agencies? Do the "national service" enlistees replace them, resulting in mass layoffs?
But Netanyahu doesn't stop on red. He doesn't care that he is destroying a fundamental tenet of Israeli society. It is of little concern to him that he is deepening discrimination within his nation - that he is facilitating ultra-Orthodox draft-dodging at the expense of secular youths, who are forced to shoulder the burden.
From the prime minister's standpoint, the most important thing is political survival. To that end, he is willing to compromise every Zionist principle and pay Shas and UTJ any price they demand. Afterward, he will sit quietly in his office, dreaming up his next spin.
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