"They also serve who only stand and wait," wrote John Milton. This quotation might be used as the motto of the National Service to be set up in accordance with a decision adopted by the Olmert government last week.
But whereas Milton was referring to his own physical disability - he was blind - the National Service is not intended for those who cannot serve in the IDF because of a physical disability, but rather for those who do not want to serve in the IDF. The National Service will presumably serve as an equalizer between those Israeli citizens who fulfill their obligation to the State of Israel by serving in the IDF, and those who do not. It will legitimate the illegitimate - a contradiction in terms.
A precedent for this discriminatory measure has already been set by the Tal Law, which provides an escape clause for ultra-Orthodox youngsters who do not want to serve in the IDF. Continuing along this line, the government will soon make a laughingstock of the compulsory military service law, turning those who serve in the IDF into the proverbial "sucker."
We demand equality of rights for all of Israel's citizens, and rightly, also equality of opportunities. But when it comes to equality regarding a citizen's obligations to his country - this is entirely another story in Israel. Just look at military service.
All Druze youngsters must perform military service. All Muslim youngsters are exempt from such service unless they are Circassians. All Jewish youngsters are obliged to do military service, unless they are ultra-Orthodox. All Christian youngsters are exempt from military service. Such a hodgepodge of obligations and exemptions would be intolerable in any other democratic country. There is no equality here.
Of course, there is an excuse for everything. Presumably you cannot demand of an Israeli-Arab youngster to fight in defense of his country, since the enemy is likely to be Arab, or maybe Muslim Iranian. Or better yet, as long as Israel's Arab citizens have not yet obtained full equality of rights and opportunities, they cannot be expected to shoulder their full obligations as citizens. If this ludicrous principle is applied, many segments of Israel's society, not only Arabs, should be exempt from military service. Of course, equally wrong is the theory that only those who serve in the IDF are entitled to equal rights and opportunities.
If religious study is considered to be no less important for the defense of the country than serving in the IDF, there must surely be many other fields of study that would qualify for exemption from military service. Seemingly there is an excuse for everything.
Even if at first sight the National Service is presented as a step toward equality of obligations, it is no more than a sleight of hand. The one redeeming feature that existed until National Service was introduced was the clear dividing line between those who did their duty and those who did not. And it could be expected that those who did not would, in time, cross the line that until now separated them from the rest of Israeli society.
As a matter of fact, each year hundreds of Arab youngsters volunteer to do full military service in the IDF. Now that the line is being blurred, it will become legitimate not to serve in the IDF, and it is to be expected that the line will in due time be crossed in the other direction - many of those who previously fulfilled their obligation as citizens by serving in the IDF will prefer to take the much easier route of National Service. Soon we will be well on the way to a volunteer army, which would spell the end of the IDF as the people's army, which has served Israel so well since 1948. A blow not only to Israel's military capability, but also to the national ethos of Israel.
All of Israel's leadership should give thought to the full implications of the establishment of National Service. But first and foremost the minister of defense and the chief-of-staff, because the IDF will be the first victim of the fallout from this undemocratic measure.
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