Don't Deny the Right to Serve

Some government officials cannot understand how nobody has yet petitioned the High Court of Justice to force the state to provide national service for anyone who wants it.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir is cutting more than 3,000 positions from the national service programs, promising on one hand not to limit the positions of ultra-Orthodox men who enlist for national service, while on the other, slashing the positions of religious women. Tamir's decision exposes the fraud underlying the Tal Law. There is no end to the government's cynicism and hypocrisy.

Tamir is eliminating the entire national service roster in the Education Ministry and more than a quarter of the service's overall workforce.

Ministers required to cut back tend do do it where it hurts, hoping this will enable them to make smaller cuts. Tamir is slashing in an area that would hurt the nationalist religious public most, in order to finance the education reform. Tamir is cutting the national service roster because it presumably belongs to the religious right wing. But this is an ideologically twisted approach.

The national service belongs to all of us. Quite a few secular young women (and youths) enlist in the national service. Moreover, the women, including the religious ones, who work in hospitals and first aid and rescue services serve the entire public.

The volunteers working in the police and the Shin Bet security service contribute to all the public's safety. The volunteers who help children in the special education system don't take care of settlers' children exclusively, and all of society benefits from the young women's work with new immigrants.

Therefore the struggle against the national service cutback is not the nationalist religious public's struggle, but the entire public's. Even if nationalist religious institutions receive unjustly larger allocations of volunteers.

The very attempt to harm the national service casts doubts on the education minister's educational vision and values. National service, like the military, is a high-level calling, and the women who volunteer can choose not to serve at all, or to do a year or two. It is in the state's interest to give every one who wants to a chance to serve, even if the treasury mandarins think otherwise.

Eighteen-year-old men and women have an equal right to serve the state, and no minister or official has the right to deny them that right for budgetary considerations.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbinical colleges, including those whose pupils are older than 18, have no limit on the number of students, and the state finances them regardless of the number of students.

In contrast, the Knesset Research and Information Center's figures show that the Education Ministry has had only 3,136 national service positions for women over the past four years.

This keeping to the status quo is actually a cutback. The national service, like a school or an army, must grow according to natural growth. Some people apparently don't understand that this issue is above petty differences. I suggest that the next time the right wing is in power, it anchors in law the national service's status and the right to serve.

The education minister's ideological failure is even greater because of her inconsistency. Two months ago Tamir asked the High Court of Justice for a two-year extension on the insufferable situation in ultra-Orthodox high school yeshivas, which do not teach general studies at all. Her present position means legitimizing the ultra-Orthodox education, which turns out ignorant pupils and educates them to dodge the draft and evade work.

Tamir has not become a supporter of ultra-Orthodox education. But the continued term of the entire government and herself as education minister depends on Shas and is therefore contingent on the absence of a core program.

The struggle against the education minister should be conducted not only in political channels, and not merely for obtaining the necessary budget. Some government officials cannot understand how nobody has yet petitioned the High Court of Justice to force the state to provide national service for anyone who wants it. It is very hard to imagine the state trying to defend itself in the face of such a petition, attempting to justify why it denies thousands of young men and women their right to serve it.

Perhaps the nationalist religious public should simply announce that until the national service positions are reinstated, no young women will volunteer for the service. Let's see Tamir explain to the hospitals or the Shin Bet how to fill the places of the missing volunteers. Let's see how long it takes her to revoke her decision.