Ultra-Orthodox soldiers in a class within the framework of Shahar, Nov. 11, 2010.
Ultra-Orthodox soldiers in a special class, November 2010. Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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Ilan Assayag
Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Photo by Ilan Assayag

The proposed amendment to the Security Service Law, mistakenly called the “equal sharing of the burden” law, clarifies our national priorities. Religion stands above all else; the defense of the country is less important. Instead of ensuring equal service  in the military, the bill perpetuates discrimination between religious people, who are more equal, and secular people, who must serve them.

The bill, which will be voted on in a special committee Monday, divides Israel’s Jewish population into three groups of men and two groups of women, based on the burden of service to be imposed on them. At the top are ultra-Orthodox yeshiva boys and Orthodox girls who sign a declaration that they are religious. They will be  exempt from military service. Then come hesder-yeshiva students. They will enjoy abbreviated service of 17 months – less than half the time served by secular young men, who are the least privileged of these groups.

The bill gives yeshiva heads de facto authority to decide which of their students will be drafted and which will be exempt. It offers the convenient alternative of “national civilian service” to young religious men and women under much better conditions than in service in the Israel Defense Forces, granting the rights of veterans to graduates of that track. The new arrangement will be implemented by the next government, so it’s doubtful it will go into effect even then.

To the state, therefore, the most important task for young men is to study Torah and for young women to maintain a religious lifestyle. Those who study math and English in school, drive on Shabbat and eat nonkosher food are sentenced to devote years of their lives to military service, deferring academic studies and a career. This is so even though men and women who serve in the IDF without hesder-yeshiva shortcuts prove that a religious lifestyle does not contradict full army service.

An “equal sharing of the burden” was the key promise of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett when they entered the Netanyahu government. But it was a false promise. Equality can be attained in one of two ways: either full military service for everyone, religious and secular, or annulling obligatory service and turning the IDF into a volunteer, professional army. These alternatives were not even examined.

Bennett managed to obtain preferential conditions for his voters in the religious-Zionist community. Lapid, who ran in last year’s election as the leader of the secular community, has not fought the discrimination against his voters. His insistence on “criminal sanctions” for ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers will change nothing. Lapid will be remembered as the one who agreed to place religion above all else.