The only democracy in the Middle East is heading to the polls again. The elections will be democratic, what else? On paper, they were called because the Supreme Court found fault with the Tal Law on draft deferrals for the ultra-Orthodox. And Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is promoting a draft-everyone bill.
In reality, the prime minister wants the Israeli elections to precede the U.S. presidential election; this order will be more conducive to an Israeli strike on Iran. Either way, events revolve around the military, war and belligerence. Sparta (the Israeli version ) is going to the polls again.
Those who thought that last summer we finally moved on, matured and sobered up have been proved wrong by the election campaign, even at its very early stage. A nonmilitary agenda is nowhere to be seen. Early symptoms were apparent on Independence Day last month; once again, it was a military festival. Most newspapers looked like old issues of IDF magazine Bamahane, filled with tales of bravery on the battlefield. U.S.-made fighter jets zoomed through the sky, one of our nation's few sources of pride.
Then the people turned to the burning issue of our time: how to, at long last, get the ultra-Orthodox to do military service. Wall-to-wall mobilization, just as in Sparta, though we won't kill the nation's puny and deformed babies (not yet, at least ). The only protest is the "suckers' tent," a termed coined by reserve soldiers with typical callousness. It's a militaristic and protofascist slogan that is the reincarnation of the old new Israeliness: "A real Israeli doesn't evade military service."
If you don't serve at checkpoints or bomb Gaza, you're not Israeli. Say hello to the non-suckers who won't bide their time until the last yeshiva student joins their ranks. Those Israelis are happy to be oppressors, bullies and plunderers - just not suckers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met them in person - unlike the representatives of other protests - and so did Lieberman. They live among their people, after all. Even centrist leader Yair Lapid, the emerging hope of Israeli politics, dedicated his first election rally to the thrilling question of Haredi conscription. This is the rock of our existence, our most burning issue: whether Leible will be sent to boot camp and Fischele will trade his black suit for army green. If they don't, they will be persecuted until they commit themselves to the ultimate Israeli rite of passage.
No political issue unites Lieberman, Lapid, Kadima's Shaul Mofaz and Labor's Shelly Yacimovich like this sordid issue. And remember, this is a civilian-run democratic society. The occupation will be swept under the rug, the social justice campaign is fast asleep, the growing travails of our ailing democracy and rule of law are unattractive. We're going to the polls only to get even with those vile Haredim.
The election will revolve mainly, though not entirely, around drafting the ultra-Orthodox. According to insiders, Netanyahu wants to get the vote out of the way to have a mandate to attack Iran. We will see no informed debate, only a consolidation of the leader's powers so he'll be able to rush to Bushehr, build in Yitzhar and gallop unhindered to Fordow. Any caveat about the potential dangers can be forgotten, including those offered by world leaders and former security officials. Indeed, the tough warnings by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin couldn't slow Netanyahu's soaring popularity.
The show must go on: Sparta in Israel. And in Sparta, do as the Spartans do: Security is king and the army is God. Mandatory army service, which results mainly from the IDF's function as an occupation force, is not a necessary evil but a moral value. The famous call "whoso is on the Lord's side, let him come unto to me," has been supplanted by "whoso is on the army's side, let him come unto me."
The crucial issues Israel is facing - the occupation, the peace process (what's that?), the rule of law, democracy, inequality - will again be cast aside, maliciously of course. They will be substituted by the marginal issue of drafting the Haredim, while the specter of a regional war is haunting Israel. Thankfully, we've called early elections.
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