IDF Reservists Demanding Equality in National Service Are Inciting Against Israel's Minorities

Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn says politicians who propose 'equality in bearing the burden' know that there is no scenario which will lead to tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox and Arab youths donning IDF uniforms.

The "reserve soldier rally" on Saturday night at the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum was a demonstration of incitement against the minorities of Israeli society – the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs. Those crying out "I am not a sucker" are not looking to integrate these minority communities, alleviate the intergroup antagonisms, and save the Israeli economy from collapse. The protesters only want one thing that "the others" also suffer and be punished for being different.

The politicians that are now proposing "equality in bearing the burden" know that no equality will be achieved. There is no scenario which will lead to tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox and Arab youths donning uniforms and enlisting to a three-year military service in the IDF, as the secular and nationalist Orthodox youths do. The state will not force service on them. Neither is this the intention of the proponents of the "reservists protest." They don't want to convert the military kitchens to Glatt Kosher, nor segregate women soldiers into separate units so that the ultra-Orthodox are made to feel at home. The Arabs are seen by the protesters as state enemies; they don't want Arab youths to join the IDF's elite infantry units or become military aviators.

Arabs and ultra-Orthodox youths are being offered an alternative to military service –"civilian service." The report published by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), last week, offers the ultra-Orthodox two alternatives; a two-year military service or a year-and-a-half long civilian service. Plesner is offering Arabs a vague "service for all" and calling for another committee to be formed to fill this empty aphorism with content, assuming that the Arab community is interested in a civilian service and not military service.

What is this "civilian service"? This is a euphemism for forced labor or state-sanctioned slavery. The ultra-Orthodox youth making an appearance in a fire station twice a week will not become a professional fire fighter, nor will the Arab youth drafted into the MDA become a paramedic overnight. This brief and partial service will not constitute real vocational training; those drafted into it will take menial positions in administration, cleaning and cooking. The same will happen in hospitals, schools and social services.

Imagine a young man from Umm el Fahm drafted into forced labor in the Hadera municipality. What will he do there? Naturally, he will not be given the position of managing the Planning and Building Committee. He won’t even be charged with giving out traffic tickets. He will be asked to mop floors, empty trash cans and make tea for civil servants. Those with the right contacts or just heightened brownnosing abilities will get the sought-after jobs as drivers and secretaries.

Colonel Dr. Reuven Gal, which was head of the Civilian Service Administration, warned in a article published in Haaretz two and a half years ago: "Military service and civilian service aren't comparable entities, they aren't even similar. Military service – certainly when compulsory – is an extension of an existential threat to the state Civilian service isn't an extension of an existential threat. The activities of the 13 thousand serving in civilian service – in schools, hospitals, the fire department, and the police – serve to meet vital needs, but have nothing to do with the survival of the community. It is debatable whether it is ethical to demand of those released from military service to serve in another kind of service. They should definitely not be imprisoned as draft dodgers if they refuse to do so. Will we lock up ultra-Orthodox or Druze girls, whose customs and traditions prohibit their serving?"

But even if this just warning is ignored, and the model proposed by Plesner is implemented, equality will not be achieved. Even the most downcast slave in a municipality or a hospital won't work as hard or take on as much risk as a solider serving in Golani. He will not become more attached to the Jewish state or come closer to Zionism, as the proponents of "equality" claim. It will only waste precious time, in which he could obtain a profession he can use to support his family and will contribute to country's economy.

Plesner, it can be learned from his report, is a diligent student that wrote an extensive Wikipedia article on the ultra-Orthodox evasion of military service - but his solutions are more convoluted than the search for the Boson-Higgs particle. He plans a complicated bureaucracy that will oversee the implementation of the law and the "personal sanctions" for those who evade the service it demands. And it is all for another ultra-Orthodox infantry regiment – a "Netzah Israel" to add to the already extant "Netzah Yehuda" – and special service and scholarship programs for ultra-Orthodox soldiers, as well as, tracking down institutions that will employ this forced labor, which in itself is an opening for corruption.

Will one be able to get out of civilian service on grounds of being mentally unfit, like in military service? How many officials will deal with this possibility and with limiting its application? And how could one get service close to home as opposed to in northern Israel or the border with the Gaza Strip?

It is a waste of money and effort. The Plesner's army of workers will not achieve equality or integration. The national effort should be exerted towards answering one question: How can we introduce the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities into the Israeli employment market. How to remove impediments, create opportunities, enact incentives, and educate the public against racism and prejudice. The speeches of incitement in Saturday night's rally aren't the way to achieve this.

Tomer Appelbaum