Half the People Are Enough

Military service cannot suit everyone. The notion that it's possible to force every young man to pass three of his best years in a violent, oppressive, hierarchical system is unrealistic.

Youths who do not serve in the Israel Defense Forces are not "draft dodgers." The IDF and the state have chosen not to enlist them. Except for a negligible minority of swindlers who succeed in mocking the system, most were released in accordance with law and custom. The fact that their number is growing should be attributed to the effortlessness with which one can secure a release from service, and not to any "values."

The 50,000 ultra-Orthodox who don't serve are also released in accordance with decisions by state institutions. The accused are therefore not among the "dodgers," but the dodged. The character assassination carried out right now against anyone who doesn't serve started with attacks on "A Star is Born" participants who don't serve, may the All-Merciful protect us. It continued through a public movement that adopted fascist-like slogans including "One nation, one army," up until the "Army of half the people" speech by Ehud Barak. This character assassination is populist and demagogic. Those who have been released from the army have not committed an offense and do not deserve to be shamed. If there's any justification for those who do serve to feel like "suckers" - which is doubtful - then they should take it up with the authorities.

The fact that the IDF gives up so easily on one-fourth of young people suggests it doesn't need them. If that's the case, why delay their release? A person who serves despite his lack of capability or will is too heavy a burden on the IDF, and therefore those who care about the army should be happy to see him or her released. It eases the budgetary load and allows the IDF to choose whomever it deems the best and most fitting. A statistic that shows 19 percent of those who never served feel dissatisfied with their lives, as opposed to 8 percent who did serve, indicates that the "sucker" feeling is baseless. Those who serve in the IDF do so for their own reasons, and sometimes to their benefit, as it should be.

The discourse on the role of the army in society is still rife with old cliches and impersonations. It has been a long time since the IDF was a "melting pot," and most of its units are socially homogenous. The gap between a pilot and his driver or a Border Police officer and a commando fighter is deep, and sometimes actually widens throughout the course of service.

Even the character of the IDF's activity has changed over the years. It went from a defensive army to an occupation army, which primarily acts as a policing force. To judge the values or morality of youth according to their IDF service is deceiving. Why is checking IDs at a checkpoint or invading bedrooms in the dead of night a criterion for judging participants from "A Star is Born?" Does this turn them into better citizens or worse? It is time we understand that IDF service, the function and conduct of which is subject to deep public debate, has not been a value for a long time. By necessity, it is not for everyone. Even the hands of the politicians who tongue-lash the "dodgers" right now are not clean. After 40 years of occupation and last summer's unnecessary war, it is completely unclear who is more harmful to the state and its values - those who don't serve in the IDF or those who send youths to die in vain in the streets of Jenin or the killing fields of Lebanon.

However, the truth is that, except for the ultra-Orthodox, most of those who don't serve were not released for ideological reasons. Through a sophisticated system of classification, the IDF decided that for physical or psychological reasons, they don't fit. And that's how the army should operate. Military service cannot suit everyone. The notion that it's possible to force every young man to pass three of his best years in a violent, oppressive, hierarchical system that doesn't leave behind any freedom of thought or choice, is unrealistic. Apparently the IDF knows whom to choose. The notion that good citizenship and loyalty to the state are determined only by military service needs to be done away with. One-fourth of all youth don't enlist? There's some positive news there. Not only these youths are getting released - maybe we're all being released from a Spartan spirit. "The entire nation is the army" - what good is that? Half the people are enough.