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The Defense Minister's decision to remove the Har Bracha yeshiva from the Israel Defense Forces' hesder framework is a big mistake because it ignores the two basic principles on which obligatory military service in a democratic society is founded. First, that the youngsters conscripted for military service are obliged to contribute three years of their lives for the sole reason that the defense of their country requires it. And second, that the military service is universal; in other words, everybody serves.

The first principle was breached during the disengagement from Gush Katif and the settlements in the northern Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, when soldiers doing their obligatory service were ordered to remove the settlers from their homes - citizens of the State of Israel who had broken no Israeli law. "The army must do what the democratically elected government decides it should do," has been repeated endlessly by supporters of the disengagement. But they seem to have forgotten that in a democratic society the government has the right to deprive young men and women of three years of their lives only in the service of their country's defense. Very few democracies nowadays have obligatory military service, which is generally recognized as justified only when the country's security, namely the security of its citizens, justifies it.

That, of course, does not justify soldiers in uniform staging demonstrations, but we must remember that the use of the IDF in the disengagement has left deep scars in Israeli society that have not yet healed. The defense minister's job is to help heal these scars by making it clear that in the future, soldiers doing their obligatory military service will be ordered only to act in defense of the country, and that the mistakes made during the disengagement will not be repeated. Great efforts should be expended in bridging the rift in Israeli society that was caused then. And nothing should be done that might widen that rift. The defense minister's decision to remove the Har Bracha yeshiva from the hesder framework does not serve that purpose.

Since Israel was founded, obligatory military service has not been universal, as by rights it should be. The Jewish ultra-Orthodox and the Arab Muslim and Christian communities have been exempt from military service all these years, with the number of exemptions growing each year. The fact that this injustice has prevailed all this time is no excuse to continue it, and every effort should be made - and it is the defense minister's direct responsibility to do so - to correct this situation, even if only gradually.

The arrangement made 40 years ago for the hesder yeshivas was an important step to widen the ranks of young men serving in the army; it justified special arrangements for yeshiva students during their army service. Similar arrangements in the future for ultra-Orthodox youngsters and Arab youngsters to serve in the IDF would be fully justified toward making obligatory military service truly universal.

Now along comes our defense minister, arbitrarily removing the Har Bracha yeshiva from the hesder framework, a move that threatens the existence of the whole hesder arrangement. This would increase the number of youngsters not doing military service, while losing the IDF many who in the past have been among its best soldiers. That would be a net loss all around. The defense minister should be working intensively on increasing the number of youngsters doing obligatory military service, thus advancing toward a truly universal obligatory military service. His latest move seems to be pushing us in the opposite direction.

It is true that there can be no effective military organization without strict discipline and a single line of command. But at the same time, obligatory military service, a far-reaching step in a democratic society, must be based on strong moral values: no political use of the army, and no exceptions from military service.