How can the state reward military veterans without also discriminating against Israeli Arabs, who are exempted from the draft? That question, the result of a draft bill that would give preference in civil-service hiring to candidates who served in the army, does not concern those whose purpose is to discriminate against Arabs. To some of them, so it seems, granting benefits to veterans is mainly an excuse for discrimination. But if the goal is to reward those who serve, there is a simple solution: Increase the demobilization allowance that soldiers receive after completing their service.
Everything the state wants to give those who serve, everything it can afford to give them as a compensation payment, a benefit, a reward in recognition of their service, it can do generously by increasing the demobilization grant. There would be no discrimination of any kind between those who served and those who did not. But whereas the bank accounts of those who did not serve - for whatever reason - would hold the money they earned and saved while others served, the accounts of those who served would be enriched by the money given them by the state for their service.
No one can object to increasing the demobilization bonus. But if we accept the principle that it is legitimate to make the completion of military or civil service a condition for the eligibility to rights or benefits, there's no end to it. It's not clear whether there's an end to some Knesset members' creative imagination, either. Could military and national-service veterans be granted priority to benches in public parks or seats on buses? Surely this would never happen, but are we sure it won't be proposed?
The proposed change will benefit veterans. Today the privileges given to veterans are very limited in scope, due to fears of judicial review prompted by claims of discrimination. For that reason, service is only one factor in granting benefits. The crude discrimination favoring military veterans in the old law on child allowances is legally and politically impossible today, despite the infuriating rhetoric of Yisrael Beiteinu and others. In today's Israel, discrimination's bark is much worse than its bite; once Israelis knew how to bite quietly.
As a result, since it is no longer possible to discriminate bluntly, wholeheartedly, it is also impossible to reward wholeheartedly, as it should be, those who have served the state. Severing the link between rewarding veterans and discrimination would allow the state to be more generous to those who served in the military or did national service.
Today, unlike in the past, it can be argued that giving preference to those who serve does not necessarily discriminate against Arabs, because they can choose to do national service. That option, however, is not as yet readily available to every young Arab man or woman, and of course it did not exist when many Arab citizens were young. Denying benefits to those who did not have an equal opportunity to serve, in my opinion, deserves to be declared illegal by the Supreme Court. If the national service administration were extended to the entire country, this would change.
But something can be legal while still being foolish and harmful. Haven't we heard a thousand times that increasing Arab and Haredi participation in the workforce is a national goal of crucial economic importance? And if an ultra-Orthodox man enters the labor market only after he is beyond the age of national service, what is the logic in that, as it reduces his chances of finding work? Hurting the job chances of Haredim and Arabs, even if it was once possible to find legal justification for it, represents an injury to the national economy, and to simple logic.
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