Make the ultra-Orthodox Serve

It is best to admit now that total equality will not exist in the foreseeable future. But still, the process of integrating Haredim and Arabs into national service are goals that we should work toward.

Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg
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Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg

Special congratulations are due to the High Court of Justice judges who handed down a ruling declaring the Tal Law, which allowed full-time yeshiva students to defer national service, illegal. They should be congratulated first and foremost for the decision itself and for not being influenced by attempts to mislead them. The state presented a false picture that one quarter of young, army-age Haredim - some 1,700 out of 7,000 - are already conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces or do civilian national service. But those numbers refer to Haredim of different ages, not only those who have just turned 18. Those who do military or national service are Haredim of other ages too, and so in actual fact the number stands at only four percent in every age group.

The ruling should also be welcomed because of the judges' readiness to show clear judicial activism. It is true that judicial activism, especially when it relates to invalidating laws, is extremely problematic, but it is completely justified when referring to so blatant a case of discrimination. In this case, the High Court took upon itself the task of being the "decisive weapon" of the camp that serves, and in this way has created a balance of terror to counter the political "decisive weapon" of the ultra-Orthodox public.

The ruling is justified not only because it helps reduce discrimination but also because of changes that have taken place in Haredi society since the draft exemption went into effect. Some felt the exemption was needed in order to keep the flame of Judaism alive after the Holocaust, and recognized that the Haredim had accepted the heavy burden of a life of isolation and poverty. But even these people could not accept the exemption when it encompassed a constantly growing community whose youth were no longer prepared to live in isolation like their parents. Those who wish to be part of Israeli society are required to accept their share of the duties imposed on its sons.

This is the nature of the ultra-Orthodox paradox of success - the community's impressive demographic and educational success demands a change in the isolationist norms that have created it. (By the way, this is valid too for Arab youth. There is nothing that will speed up more their integration and equality than a change in their isolationist norms in terms of social obligations. )

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that a really enormous gap exists between the norms of army life and the Haredi way of life. Therefore it is not only for practical reasons that it would be wrong to induct all Haredim into the IDF by force. Complete exemption from service must be created - and even funded by the state - for a certain quota of several hundred, no more, exceptional students, in order to clarify that the demand for military service from the remainder is not a question of "persecuting the Torah."

All the remaining ultra-Orthodox would be able to choose between military service and national service, and incentives, in the form of various material benefits, should be provided to those who choose the military option. In the same spirit, sanctions that the state would impose on those who wished to evade all service should not be criminal sanctions, at least not at first. Haredim have anyway demonstrated that they are not afraid of being jailed for their beliefs. The sanction must be economic - removing all the special benefits that yeshiva students enjoy at present.

It must be acknowledged that, even if all these moves are implemented, there will still not be complete equality in sharing the burden. The question will still remain: Why can a Haredi choose between a military and a civilian track and I cannot? An attempt to answer this question by limiting the right to vote to those who serve in the army is likely to lead to the comprehensive collapse of the idea of "a people's army," which is still vital to Israeli society.

It is best to admit now that total equality will not exist in the foreseeable future. But still, the process of integrating Haredim and Arabs into national service, and treating them as equal to those who serve in the army, at least during the time of their contribution to the state and society (as well as granting material incentives and expressions of national appreciation to those who serve in the army ), are sufficiently important goals that we should work toward.



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