How Lovely Is Civilian Service'

Those young men who use the yeshiva as a city of refuge do this in order to save their soul and their body. This is a cowardly abdication of responsibility, which is also contrary to Judaism.

The latest fashion is "civilian service." This is the invention that is going to solve all the problems of society, the alienation that is felt by the Arabs, the draft-dodging on the part of the ultra-Orthodox, the problems of the conscientious objectors, and of all of those who just don't want to serve in the military. We'll give them "civilian service," and Israeli society will become egalitarian and happy.

This was the spirit behind the appointment, about a year ago, of a committee headed by David Ivry to examine the issue. Predictably, the committee is recommending that every citizen be allowed to volunteer for "civilian service." How lovely. How progressive. In order to attract young people - both Jewish and Arab - the committee is recommending that the volunteers be granted benefits identical to those granted a demobilized soldier (tax reductions, subsidized housing loans, study grants and so on), after they have devoted one whole year of their lives to civilian service.

The committee did not deal with the ultra-Orthodox. That issue was taken out its hands and transferred for political treatment to a committee - headed by (now Justice) Minister Tzipi Livni - which is also examining the Tal law on military service for the ultra-Orthodox. At the Prime Minister's Bureau they say that the intention is to allow the ultra-Orthodox "civilian service" instead of "abbreviated military service of several months" - that is, to make things even easier for the draft-dodgers.

At present, 23 percent of Jewish men are not conscripted. Of them, 10 percent receive an exemption under the "Torah is their craft" arrangement, and 13 percent for psychological and medical reasons, failure to fit the minimum criteria, or a grave criminal record. In addition, 40 percent of the women are not conscripted, three-quarters of them because they have declared themselves to be religiously observant - a proportion that has burgeoned by 50 percent since 1990.

Those young men who use the yeshiva as a city of refuge do this in order to save their soul and their body. This is a cowardly abdication of responsibility, which is also contrary to Judaism. In the Yad Hazaka, in the laws for kings, the Rambam writes that in wars that are for a good cause no one is allowed to avoid participation in battle. Even "a groom from his bed and a bride from her wedding canopy" must go out to fight. But who is the Rambam as compared to the ultra-Orthodox politicos? It is necessary to acknowledge the reality and not to play around with words: The ultra-Orthodox politicos want the secular donkey to continue sacrificing himself for their sakes. The don't want the funeral procession to depart from their homes, they are not interested in visiting their sons in hospitals, and they prefer not to spend sleepless nights tossing and turning because of worry about their son who is serving in the Gaza Strip.

Therefore it would be the height of absurdity to allow them, and the others, to volunteer for national service for one year in the "community," after which they will be granted all the benefits and breaks that are granted to soldiers doing compulsory service. The opposite should be done: Compulsory service should be made more attractive and worthwhile. No longer a ridiculous nominal wage and a few little benefits at the end of service, but rather the payment of a decent wage (NIS 3,000 a month) to soldiers, so that they can support themselves during their tour of duty, save a considerable sum and enter civilian life without empty hands.

Establishing an alternative track of civilian service will also increase the aspiration to stay out of the Israel Defense Forces by the very fact of the creation of a track that does not entail any risks, but which is also legitimate and also grants benefits after its completion. Thus two parallel tracks will develop, and the IDF will lose their status as "the people's army" and "the melting pot."

The committee is recommending the establishment of "a government authority for civilian service," which will be comprised of a number of branches, have many employees and receive large budgets. That is, another bureaucracy, more fat on the hips of "the fat man" - the public sector.

Moreover, who will be able, and who will want, to supervise what those young people volunteering for civilian service are doing? Is there anyone who can infiltrate the ultra-Orthodox community or an Arab village to check?

Old distortions must not be solved by new means. It is necessary to conscript all the ultra-Orthodox to the IDF, and to take dealing with volunteerism out of the hands of the state. If there are those - both Arab and Jewish - who want to volunteer and contribute to the community, good for them. For this there are existing frameworks. The state does not need to get involved in this. In any case it meddles too much.