Not Historic and Not an Achievement

Although it’s true that the Haredim are resisting the Perry Committee’s recommendations for a new military draft with all their might, deep down they’re chuckling. 'That’s it?' they’re asking themselves. 'This is the best the secular can do even when we’re weakened and out of the coalition?’

Nehemia Shtrasler
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“This is a historic achievement,” Yair Lapid hurried to declare about the legislative recommendations of the Perry Committee, even before they were finalized. Perhaps that’s how you get public opinion on your side, but the sad truth is that this “achievement” is no achievement, and it certainly isn’t historic.

Although it’s true that the Haredim are resisting the recommendations with all their might, and we can expect some massive demonstrations, deep down they’re chuckling. “That’s it?” they’re asking themselves. “This is the annihilation we were afraid of? This is the best the secular can do even when we’re weakened and out of the coalition?”

Even the name of the committee is deceptive. There isn’t any “equal sharing of the defense burden” here, but exactly the opposite: discriminatory draft by sectors. The national religious community, represented by Habayit Hayehudi, actually scored the greatest achievement of anyone: Hesder yeshiva students, who combine military service with yeshiva study over five years, had their period of active duty extended from 16 months to 17, instead of to three years. A world war erupted in the committee over that one month, after the original proposal would have extended their service to two years. But why only two years? Why is the blood of someone who studies in a hesder yeshiva any redder than that of a secular teenager who serves in the Golani Brigade or the Armored Corps?

It’s because “the secular” are not a pressure group. They have no representatives to fight for them. They will always pay more.

Now let’s get to the Haredim. The recommendations talk about “conscripting” the Haredim at age 21, when they will be able to choose between a military track or a civilian service track. Here, too, there is no “equal burden,” but more fixed discrimination.

It’s not for nothing that the draft age was set at 18. That’s the age at which young people finish a chapter in their studies, but still haven’t started families or taken on financial obligations. It’s an age at which young people ‏(Haredim, too!‏) are prepared to take chances, and are more likely to enlist in combat units with a sense of mission. But 21 is a totally different story. At this age, many Haredi men are married and sometimes even have children, and running across the hills with a weapon while risking body and soul looks like a ridiculous idea. He has a family, he may already be paying a mortgage, and he won’t enlist. Nor will the Israel Defense Forces want him. His army salary will be NIS 4,000 a month ‏(because he’s married‏), not NIS 400. This will make the arrangement not worthwhile for the army, which will release him − or at best, send him to do civilian service.

But civilian service is nothing more than another sleight of hand. There’s no equal burden when one person is risking his life for three years in the Golani Brigade, while the other is spending a few hours a day doing “community service.” Civilian service for Haredim will turn into a pipeline that will funnel millions of shekels to Haredi young men, Haredi nonprofits and Haredi bureaucracies, with no one able to track the funds as they move through Bnei Brak or Mea She’arim. And if there is civilian service available, why should only the Haredim benefit? Why can’t a secular teenager evade service and “serve” in the community instead? In any case, this arrangement will never pass the scrutiny of the High Court of Justice.

Now let’s take the third sector, the secular community. Today, 42 percent of young women are never drafted, most of them because they declare that they are religious. The Perry Committee doesn’t touch them; instead, it recommends that service for secular girls be extended from 24 months to 28! How’s that? The religious women will continue to evade service, while the secular women will serve longer. That’s equality for you.

What’s needed is to simply disband the Perry Committee. We don’t need targets or quotas, we simply need to draft everyone − secular, religious and Haredi, without discrimination and without “arrangements” − at the age of 18. That’s how we’ll be able to reduce military service from three years to two for everybody, and also shorten reserve duty. It’s more correct, more fair, and will bring the greatest benefit to the economy. It’s also better public policy. Because the army remains the melting pot of Israeli society. There, for the first time, secular, religious and Haredi teens will live together, in the same tent. That’s where the walls of hatred that divide us will fall. And if, as a result, Haredim enter the workforce after they serve − and it’s reasonable to assume that will happen − then we will have benefited in every possible way.