Haredim strolling the streets of Bnei Brak. Will they bear the burden, too?
Haredim strolling the streets of Bnei Brak. Photo by Uriel Sinai
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The guys in the suckers' tent were very worried. When I visited them Friday, they kept asking me: Will the people come to the square near the museum en masse tomorrow? And if so, will this influence the government?

I reassured them. Tens of thousands of people will come, I said, and the event will have a major impact on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I was convinced of this due to my many conversations over the past week on drafting the ultra-Orthodox. The secular donkey was clearly digging in his heels and rebelling, so this time he would go out and demonstrate.

It was also clear that Netanyahu would do another of his endless flip-flops and change his mind about supporting the Plesner Committee's proposals on the issue. After all, he sticks his finger out the window every morning to test the wind and makes his decisions accordingly.

The only problem is that the committee's proposals are misleading. In fact, they're a giant fake. Even the term "equality in bearing the burden" has been grotesquely warped by this committee. Its proposals talk about "drafting" the Haredim at age 23, when they would be able to choose between a military track and a civilian track.

That isn't "equality in sharing the burden" - it's an expansion of the inequality. How can you compare someone who spends three years in the Golani Brigade or on a missile boat with someone who, at 23, spends a few hours a day doing "civilian service in the community," where he teaches a 13-year-old how to chant the Torah portion, teaches boys in a yeshiva high school, or wanders through hospital wards to lay tefillin on the men?

The absurdity is even greater because his salary during this civilian service will be much higher than what soldiers doing their compulsory service receive: a few thousand shekels a month compared with only a few hundred. That's because at 23, the Haredi recruit will already have several children. Moreover, civilian service has been defined as lasting only 18 months, whereas compulsory military service lasts three years. Under these conditions, who would be crazy enough to choose the Israel Defense Forces?

But the most important difference between military and civilian service is the risk of being wounded or killed. Only the army goes to war, and only the army calls people up for 25 days of reserve duty a year. Thus as long as military funerals take place everywhere in Israel except the Haredi town of Bnei Brak, there will be no equality in bearing the burden. Moreover, it will be impossible to shorten compulsory service and reserve duty, even though doing so is critical to improve the economy and secular Israelis' quality of life.

And here's one more brutal fact: Only when Haredim, too, are fighting at the front and, heaven forbid, being wounded or killed, will the Shas party's leaders really understand the horrors of war. We'll see them suddenly toning down their calls for war - a vocation at which party chairman Eli Yishai excels.

Some say military service isn't that important and we should focus on getting the Haredim into the job market. But this, too, is wrong. Only military service, the melting pot of Israeli society, will show young Haredim that another world exists. At that point, some will decide that instead of returning to yeshiva, it's better to go to college and get a job. That will make them independent and self-sufficient - precisely what the community's leaders fear.

Therefore, instead of the Plesner Committee's recommendations, which basically solve nothing, the Knesset should enact one simple law: drafting all Jews (and Druze ) into the IDF for a full term of service at age 18, with no discrimination between secular people, religious Zionists and Haredim. Just as the army has been able to absorb tens of thousands of secular and religious Zionist Jews, it will be able to gradually and compassionately absorb 7,000 Haredim while granting exemptions to the unsuitable.

And what of civilian service? Shas leaders love this idea. They see it as a giant opportunity to transfer billions of shekels from the state to Haredi organizations and individuals, who will receive largess with no supervision. Therefore, civilian service should be shut down immediately. It's unnecessary, wasteful and causes nothing but harm. People who want to volunteer can do so individually, in their spare time.

The time has come for the guys in the suckers' camp to really stop being suckers. Instead of backing the Plesner Committee, they should adopt a clear, principled stance: equal military service for all, from age 18. That's the only formula for real equality in sharing the burden. Only when the same military tent contains secular, religious Zionist and Haredi Jews will the walls of hatred come tumbling down and Israeli society be healed.