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Suddenly Israelis Care About Equality

We want only one thing – ultra-Orthodox men in uniform. That will make our society fair and our camp pure

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An Ultra Orthodox Jew looks on at a protest in front of the main army recruitment office in Jerusalem. May 2013.
An Ultra Orthodox Jew looks on at a protest in front of the main army recruitment office in Jerusalem. May 2013.Credit: AFP

Suddenly they care about equality. Suddenly Israeli society wakes up from its slumber and fights for one of democracy’s most subline basic values. Suddenly the High Court of Justice raises high the equality flag. Suddenly everybody’s so enlightened.

Kudos to Israel; kudos to the High Court of Justice. The same High Court of Justice that legitimized almost every discrimination in the West Bank – that sees abandoned property from 1948 as belonging to Jews alone, as it does family reunification – suddenly hands down equality rulings. And the same Yair Lapid, who stated that Israeli Arabs are Z-grade citizens (“the Zoabis”), says that from now on there are no A-grade and B-grade citizens (only Z). And a highfalutin columnist wrote: a day of celebration.

This isn’t merely about some principle from the French Revolution. It’s about “equality in carrying the burden.” And the burden in Israel means only the burden of serving in the IDF, nothing else. Disabled people are sweating in their wheelchairs at the highway junctions, begging for a tiny bit less discrimination, a little more equality in bearing the burden, and nobody seems to care. Asylum seekers from Africa, immigrants from Ethiopia, Arabs and Palestinians are begging for a little more equality, and are turned down. We’re in a struggle for equality in bearing the burden, we want only one thing – ultra-Orthodox men in uniform. That will make our society fair and our camp pure. Exclusions and deprivations, a story of discrimination and darkness – just serve in the army and there’ll be justice.

The left, how ludicrous, is even noisier than the right in the passion for everyone to wear a uniform, for everyone to carry a gun, for everyone to patrol the West Bank streets, for everyone to snatch people from their beds or bombard them in their homes. This is how the draft messiah, Lapid, put it: “Values have won today, the IDF spirit has won, our soldiers have won draft for all.” Values, the IDF spirit, draft for all – in German it would have sounded hideous, but this is what Lapid’s Israeli justice is founded on. No other issue inflames the secular majority here like lust, there’s no other word, to see the ultra-Orthodox people in battle vests.

Every few years the subject comes up, and the furor erupts. At its root is Israel’s No. 1 value – not to be a freier, a sucker, whether it’s in a traffic jam, a line at the clinic or the IDF. It’s doubtful if the soldiers really care if the Ponevezh yeshiva boys join the army, it’s doubtful if they even see their own military service as a “burden.” But their parents, who don’t want to be freiers, do. Also, behind all the ovations for the High Court hides the hatred for the ultra-Orthodox, the burning hatred for those who are different and black.

The IDF has long ceased to be the people’s army, about half the Israelis don’t serve in it – Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, sick people, exiles, draft-dodgers and dissenters. All it needs is the ultra-Orthodox to join the fray. The army has long stopped being egalitarian, too. The “good” ones go to be pilots and the “bad” ones to the Border Police. Those from the state of Tel Aviv go to Intelligence Unit 8200, on the way to their big high-tech exit, and those from the periphery state go to Kfir, on the way to become car mechanics.

The IDF is too bloated for its missions, with quite a bit of hidden unemployment – all it needs is the ultra-Orthodox. And once they’re in the army we’ll all start a struggle against the creeping religiosity in the ranks. How the secular will shriek against segregation and exclusion, against women singing (too erotic) and against imposing the Bnei Brak Chief Rabbi Landa’s kashrut laws on the IDF’s kitchens.

Leave the ultra-Orthodox alone, they carry their own burden of poverty and the dark, dull life of Torah. In any case it will never be possible to draft them forcibly, but only with understanding, and to achieve understanding takes time, especially when we’re dealing with religion. Just like the understanding that the Arabs don’t go to the army, so we must understand the ultra-Orthodox sentiments.

Too many Israeli politicians have built hollow careers from inflaming the hatred against the ultra-Orthodox. But above all it’s time to grow up already from the nonsense that military service is a “value,” and implementing it means equality. It’s neither a value nor equality, but a compulsion. There are enough Israelis willing to do it, many of them aspire to serve in the West Bank, chase stone-throwing children and unleash their frustrations, violence and hatred of Arabs. There’s no shortage of thugs in the IDF, nor of pilots, snipers or dog trainers. So let’s leave the ultra-Orthodox alone.

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