Lapid's Fraudulent Effort to 'Equalize the Burden’

The only proper solution to the problem of Israeli military conscription: Equal service for all - secular, religious Zionist or Haredi.

All signs indicate that the time has come for Israel to establish a “Ministry of Truth,” as per George Orwell’s “1984.” Then the prime minister would be able to convince us more easily that “war is peace,” and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid would be able to tell us fairy tales about how he’s brought about a law that will “equalize the burden” of military service in the country.

Voting on various clauses of the bill calling for a draft for the ultra-Orthodox continued Monday in a Knesset committee, whose chairwoman, MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), seemed to care about only one issue: the privileges enjoyed by religious Zionist yeshiva students in the hesder framework, which combines Torah study with army service. Her behavior, and that of her party chairman, Naftali Bennett, is just like that of a union leader who seeks to protect the excessive privileges of his workers, with no consideration for the general welfare.

After all, it’s absurd that the most militant group of all, the one most eager for battle, the one most opposed to a peace agreement, should be the one that serves only 17 months in the Israel Defense Forces, while secular Jews serve a full term of 36 months, soon to be reduced to 32 months. Few know this, but during the four years they spend in this program, hesder students are eligible for a monthly salary from the IDF of as much as 3,000 to 4,000 shekels ($855-$1,140), if they are married with children.

Bennett has also achieved another perk for them: Every year, 300 of these young men will be able to declare that “Torah is their profession” and thus receive exemptions from military service – just like members of the ultra-Orthodox community, which will be entitled to 1,800 such exemptions per year.

In other words, only the secular will be barred from the “Torah is their profession” exemption. If a secular person wants to study literature, history, philosophy, electronics, computers, economics or medicine, it’s worth nothing. Zilch. It apparently doesn’t "contribute" a whit to the economy or Israeli society. Only those who study Talmud contribute. And Yair Lapid, the representative of the secular, sees this and remains silent.

The other group that is being discriminated against is secular women who are drafted into the IDF. Religious and so-called traditional women can declare that they are Sabbath-observant and, with shocking ease, obtain exemptions from service. As a result, only 58 percent of Israel's draft-age women enter the army each year. And now the IDF wants to pile yet another burden on this group, by extending their service by four months to 28 months, all in the name of “equalizing the burden.”

But the high point of this legislation in Orwellian terms is its treatment of the Haredim. First, they will enjoy a three-and-a-half-year “transition period,” until July 2017, during which every ultra-Orthodox man who is 22 or older will be automatically exempt from military service. After that, he will be able to defer his induction until age 24, and then choose either military or civilian service. But it’s clear the IDF won’t want him at age 24, when he’s already married with children and will be eligible for a salary of 4,000 shekels a month – eight times (!) the salary of a secular soldier doing his compulsory service.

The option of civilian service is another gaping hole in the “equalizing the burden” law. After all, a two-year sojourn abroad – spent serving the Jewish community in Boston or working in a Chabad House in Thailand – is clearly worth just as much as service in the Golani infantry brigade on the border with Lebanon or Gaza.

The whole issue of “quotas” also constitutes one big fraud. The new legislation stipulates that the cabinet will set annual enlistment targets for the Haredim every year, and those numerical targets, of course, will be determined by political pressure. The definition of “ultra-Orthodox” itself has been greatly expanded as well, so that it also includes the shabab (yeshiva dropouts), exceptional cases, the unaffiliated, the newly religious, the no-longer religious, Chabad Hasidim and even some men in Zionist yeshivas. Thus the Ashkenazi “Lithuanians” (non-Hasidic Haredim) and the Sephardi elite will be able to continue to dodge the draft without any problems.

And all this is happening when Lapid is in the coalition and the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are outside it. Just imagine what will happen when the Haredim return to the coalition.

It would therefore be preferable for Lapid to announce right now that he has failed in the task he set for himself, and that he’s withdrawing this Orwellian bill from the Knesset. Instead, that body should enact a law that ensures the only proper solution to this problem: equal service for all – secular, religious Zionist or Haredi – for a period of two and a half years, starting at age 18, with no quotas and no draft-dodging.

At least that way, there won’t be any need to establish a Ministry of Truth.

Tomer Apelbaum