Opinion

Beware of Drafting Haredim

A glance at our region is enough to understand that the combination of religion and the military is a disaster.

A protest against induction in the Israeli army by members of the ultra-Orthodox community in Bnei Brak, Mar. 26, 2017.
Reuven Castro/Walla News

If the Israel Defense Forces, like the State of Israel, is truly a melting pot, then the assumption that you go in as one kind of person and come out as another, as a new person, is not without merit. On the contrary, that’s the whole idea. And so Rabbi Yigal Levinstein’s statement that the IDF disrupts the values of religious girls who are drafted into it is obvious. People who want to debate Levinstein on the matter had better concentrate on the question of whether they welcome the change the rabbi warns against. People in favor of religious girls changing their value system should support drafting them and say: Yes indeed, the army changes the girls who join it, but it’s a change for the better, not a “disruption.”

However, let’s not kids ourselves: Change takes place. A sector that does not want the value system of its boys or girls to change, and for them to adopt a new identity, it’s only natural that they won’t want them to be drafted into a system that defines itself as a melting pot. The same is true for the ultra-Orthodox. Those who want to protect the ultra-Orthodox identity from change had better not join the army. At the same time, since joining the army truly involves change, it would be best to think about the nature of that change before automatically adopting the slogan of “equal bearing of the burden.”

In the reality of 2017, does the IDF change those who join it for the better? More specifically, is it wise to push the ultra-Orthodox into the engulfing arms of religious Zionism?

Debate over the draft is rather political and not professional. Prof. Yagil Levy, an expert on relations between the Israeli army and society, explains: “If the demand to draft the Haredim [ultra-Orthodox] comes from within the army and its political patrons, it does not stem from a need to draft the Haredim, but rather, from the need to use their draft to legitimize the drafting of other groups.” In other words, the IDF doesn’t need the Haredim. If the IDF doesn’t need them, the Haredim don’t need the IDF, so what’s the whole argument about?

The public demand for equal sharing of the burden, Levy explains, comes from the desire to reduce that burden, a desire typical of a market economy that has distanced itself from the ideology at the foundation of the idea of the people’s army. That is, for the IDF to receive – for free – the groups that it wants, it has to make sure to demand that everyone be drafted, with no exceptions.

Because this is not a professional debate, we must consider the political implications of demanding a universal draft. We must not forget that the melting pot’s mold not only reshapes the draftees’ identity, it reshapes itself at the same time, in keeping with the various elements of identity that are poured into it.

For this reason, for example, people who are worried about the impact of the weight of religious Zionism in the IDF want women to be drafted. That is because everywhere in the IDF where there are women, the freedom of movement of religious Zionist soldiers is curtailed.

Under the illusion of a shared national identity, Israeli society is actually a people divided into sectors and the tensions between them is the greatest threat to modern Israel; that is, to secular Israel. So the struggle over the draft must be waged wisely and cautiously. As long as secular Zionism was in possession of the army’s identity mold, it could allow itself to dream of a universal draft. But today there is a struggle over the melting pot’s identity mold, and it is not at all clear in whose image young Israelis are being reshaped.

A glance at our region is enough to understand that the combination of religion and the military is a disaster. Israel likes to deny it, but it is not different from this point of view. There is a dangerous contradiction between anxiety over the state becoming more religious and the demand to make a match between the Haredim and the army. Is that what a rational Israel wants: to use the IDF as an apparatus to forcibly convert moderate young Haredim into fiery young Haredi nationalists?