Opinion

All Israeli Men Should Be Drafted at 18 – Including the ultra-Orthodox

The Haredim like to tell us fairy tales about how Torah studies are saving the Jewish people. But combat soldiers are the ones saving the Jewish people

Ultra-Orthodox demonstration against the draft, Jerusalem, April, 2017
Olivier Fitoussi

That’s how it is in a minoritocracy. Everything is distorted. What’s up is down and what’s down is up. The minority, which constitutes only 12 percent of the population and 11 percent of the MKs, dominates the majority. Ultra-Orthodox politicians, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism and Interior Minister Arye Dery of Shas, are forcing their worldview on the general public, and the majority, which is represented by Likud, is giving in and catering to their every whim.

As with every successful extortionist, success increases their appetite. This time the subject is the draft deferment law, which is nothing more than the law for evading service in the Israel Defense Forces.

It’s true that the extortionate behavior of the Haredim didn’t start today, but in the present government it has reached a peak: huge budget supplements of billions of shekels for yeshivas, married yeshiva students and the ultra-Orthodox education networks, along with cancellation of the obligation to teach basic academic subjects in Haredi schools. An increase in child allotments, a reduction in the scope of maintenance work on the railways on Shabbat, the minimarket law and the Litzman law, which turns a deputy minister into an acting minister, Israbluff style.

They succeeded in passing a law that enables them to completely evade service in the IDF, but the High Court of Justice rejected it for reasons of inequality. Their response: to pass a Basic Law for Torah students, which will supersede the principle of equality. And that’s the reason for the present crisis. Litzman and Gafni are saying that they won’t vote for the 2019 state budget as long as their draft-evasion law doesn’t pass in the Knesset. But the budget is scheduled to pass in the Knesset in just over a week from now, and there isn’t enough time.

The Haredim like to tell us all kinds of fairy tales about the importance of Torah study and how it’s saving the Jewish people. But those who really are saving the Jewish people are the combat soldiers, who risk their lives for 32 months, and then go on to study engineering, medicine, liberal arts, education and management, and work hard all their lives and pay full taxes – which finances the draft evaders.

The simple truth is that the mantle of Torah studies is nothing more than a cover for the real reason for draft evasion: protecting lives. Anyone who takes refuge in the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak is not risking his life. He doesn’t undergo dangerous weapons training and doesn’t participate in Israel’s wars.

Litzman, Gafni and Dery were sent to the Knesset to make sure that the Haredi mother in Bnei Brak will be able to sleep peacefully at night. Their job is to ensure that no military funeral will set out from Bnei Brak or Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood. And as long as there are enough secular mules who are willing to sacrifice themselves to safeguard them, the draft evasion will continue.

The military draft has a political angle as well. The Haredim who complete the army acquire a technological profession or a basic education during their third year of service. The result is that a discharged Haredi soldier can join the job market and support himself and his family with dignity, without any need for the lobbying of the ultra-Orthodox MKs, and then he is liable not to vote for them at the polls.

At the same blessed time, the big discount received by religious Zionist men who study in the Hesder yeshivas (combining army service with Torah study) should also be canceled. It’s unconscionable that 1,500 young men serve for only 17 months rather than 32, like the secular community. Their blood is no redder than that of a secular soldier.

Instead of a new draft-evasion law for the Haredim, all Haredi, religious Zionist and secular men should be drafted at the age of 18, for full service, without quotas and without tricks, and then the burden on secular youth will be reduced somewhat. Any other solution is distorted, unfair and will end in a revolt of the secular community.

But how do I dare to speak about an equal sharing of the burden, when I live in a minoritocracy, in which the minority joyfully rides on the back of the secular mule, which may bray a little to express its bitterness, but continues to bend down and bear the burden.