Opinion

Kahol Lavan’s Mission

Leaders of Kahol Lavan, Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, at the Knesset, May 27, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

There are growing calls for Yair Lapid to give up his rotation agreement with Benny Gantz. This is a wise and necessary demand. Firstly, the agreement was strange and unnecessary from the outset. Secondly, voters don’t like to choose half-leaders. Thirdly, Lapid’s proximity to the lofty seat is too difficult for Haredi lawmakers to accept and prevents any chances of launching a dialogue with them.

But Lapid must give it up mainly because he’s about as deserving of the title of prime minister as that of NBA champion. For seven years he’s been in politics and it seems he has never succeeded in moving beyond the confines of groveling mediocrity.

>> Israeli majority's fight with ultra-Orthodox should be over education, not conscription | Analysis

Lapid needs not only to give up on rotation but also one of the holy cows he has embraced: conscripting the ultra-Orthodox. It’s time to do away with the “equal burden” slogan. The phrase has been useless from the moment of its birth and its usage has done much more harm than good.

It’s enough to look at what the Haredi conscripts are doing to understand the depth of the stupidity behind such campaigns. Religious fundamentalism runs wild on military bases, where training involves nauseating misogyny, with rabbis commanding the commanders. Religious influence runs amok and the disgusting deeds of the Haredi Netzah Yehuda battalion (whose soldiers tortured a father in front of his son), which ought to have its name changed to the “Netzah Simon and Levi Brothers.” (Why? Read up on it in the Book of Genesis).

Instead, Kahol Lavan could become the first movement to openly declare that every Israeli citizen has the right not to be drafted, and not only the Haredim.

Once relieved of this unnecessary rotation deal and from Lapid’s conscription formula, Benny Gantz could set forth before the voters, Haredi and secular alike, a platform that lays out a new, original future, something that could be refreshing and that deviates from the awful political routine: A commitment to fully exempt all Haredim from military conscription, not as a gimmick or favor, or as dues during coalition negotiations – but as a first step toward turning the entire army into a professional one and canceling compulsory conscription altogether, for everyone.

Everyone would gain. The ultra-Orthodox can be freed of the military burden. The army will be freed of the ultra-Orthodox burden. Those young people who choose the military as a profession can enjoy proper salaries. Israeli youths would win another three years of higher education and time to mature. It’s a perfect win-win deal, and a welcome development.

And who knows? Perhaps as a result of this, the “historic alliance” that once united the ultra-Orthodox and the (relatively) rational Israeli politicians, can be revived.

A party of generals can allow itself to put forth such a proposal. They know the truth. The army has more than once hinted that it could make do without conscripted forces. Most military duties are in any case conducted by professional forces. The work involved in the occupation and oppression is mainly carried out by paid troops. And the time has come to relieve the army of the “educational” duties it has been forced to undertake, to relieve it of the necessity of stamping one generation after the other with the mark of obedience, power and ignorance necessary to carry out repetitious missions. Israeli society will no doubt benefit, and the professional army will no doubt be more effective than a compulsory one.

Kahol Lavan could become the first movement to fully declare the right to non-conscription for all Israeli citizens and not just the ultra-Orthodox. The proper slogan to put before the voters would be: “Not equal burden, but equal exemption.”

And Lapid? He doesn’t have to leave the party. He could still be very useful in posters, representing the movement abroad and encouraging the followers at rallies, as long as he doesn’t interfere.