Chief of Staff Shows Rare Weak Point Over Haredi Draft

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When the United States was founded, every black slave for racist and political reasons – was considered three fifths of a person. Only when slavery was abolished was a freed slave considered a full person.

One hundred and fifty years were needed until a creative heir to Abraham Lincoln arose, a current Knesset member, Elazar Stern (Hatnuah). He proposed that we consider every two ultra-Orthodox Jews who enlist in the Israel Defense Forces before the age of 21 as three people. A Haredi who hurries up and converts his black togs into green will then become a person and a half.

Such nonsense is launched as a trial balloon because the very same Moishele and a half is not a person with an independent identity who is supposed to fulfill his civic duty. He’s an anonymous person in a crowd, a match in a matchbox. Every other young person his age who is a candidate for military service and receives a draft notice enlists – or evades service – on a personal basis. Not the Haredi. He’s a number within a quota, a numerus clausus in reverse.

We can imagine the scandal that would have erupted if it had been decided that members of any other group or ethnicity would be drafted based on a quota. We’re sorry, they would say at the enlistment center to a young man of Ethiopian origin. Every spot is taken; we’ve already taken our 1,200 Ethiopians for the year. And anyway, we don’t speak with you; only with the leaders who represent you.

This is an unconstitutional distortion of democracy. It’s natural that political wheeler-dealers allow it. It’s embarrassing that IDF commanders accept such a situation concerning citizens about to be drafted – or not. And during their service, these citizens will be subject to an outside authority, a rabbinic political one.

In its explanation on why Chief of Staff Benny Gantz is fighting for better salaries for those in the professional army – and not God forbid for those doing their compulsory service – the IDF usually says there is no union representing people in uniform. The Haredim in the IDF will have such a union – on the outside – with a power that army commanders will be powerless to confront.

Lt. Gen. Gantz is careful to be called “Benjamin (Benny) Gantz” officially. So it has been since the days of IDF spokesman Abraham (Avi) Benayahu, Yoav (Poli) Mordechai and now with Mordechai (Moti) Almoz. Placing the full name before the nickname in parentheses sends a message of maturity, seriousness and continuity with former chiefs of staff and top politicians. There’s Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, Rafael (Raful) Eitan and Mordechai (Mota) Gur.

Gantz is experiencing happy days, especially in the Red Sea, at the beginning of the last quarter of his term. His style infuses a feeling of calm and business-like efficiency. He’s a tall man, but he does not look arrogantly down at others.

But Gantz also insists on strengthening the problematic side of his calm image – a fear of friction, avoiding conflict. This can be seen in his silence in the face of the discrimination embodied in the new draft legislation for Haredim, and in his refusal to implement his moral duty to demand that the Sharon family return to the IDF the  secret documents that were illegally stored at Sharon's Sycamore Ranch. This is the parallel to the antiquities collection Moshe Dayan dug up and flew out for himself, illegally.

This is unpleasant for Gantz. Even when he has to choose one candidate out of two for a promotion, it’s unpleasant for him – but he gets over it. But not so when faced with Sharon, whom he praised so highly, as if he were glorifying lying to superior officers and refusing to obey orders. It might also be unpleasant for Gantz to upset Sharon’s son Omri, his friend from the Shaldag elite commando unit.

From the military advocate general, for whom selective enforcement is his religion, there was no reason to expect a determined demand, backed up by the Military Police, to turn over the material. There was such an expectation from Gantz – and he disappointed, since he needed civic, not military, courage.

For a warrior like Gantz, it’s easier to endanger oneself in battle or send the naval commandos long distances than to battle over values. His predecessors as chief of staff surrendered to Sharon because the politicians (David Ben-Gurion, Pinchas Sapir) pressured them to do so. After Sharon’s death, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the first to volunteer to be shocked by it.

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz during a training exercise in the Golan.Credit: IDF Spokesman's Office

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