The Absurdity, Racism and Inequality of Conscription to the Israeli Army

In the IDF, while one arm forcibly grabs those who don’t wish to serve, the other rejects the very people who who long to do so.

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Women soldiers in the IDF.
Women soldiers in the IDF.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The fact that Tair Kaminer is a female conscientious objector is presumably marginal. The important thing is the motive for her refusal to serve – her unwillingness to serve in an army that enables a continuation of the occupation.

We should welcome the fact that a conscience is not an organ that is excusive to one gender or another, and the fact that young men and women who are trying to decide whether or not to serve will have varied models with whom to identify (therefore, at the same time it’s important to find conscientious objectors belonging to different groups, such as religious people or Mizrahim (of Middle Eastern or North African origin.))

At the same time, and without for a moment forgetting the essence of refusal, when the conscientious objector is a woman, her refusal also serves as a reminder of the built-in discrimination in the law conscripting girls to the Israel Defense Forces.

According to the law, which even the secular community accepts as Torah from Sinai and as the words of the living God, young secular women are required to do military service. On the other hand, religious women are given a choice in advance between military service and voluntary participation in the civilian national service (Sherut Leumi)– in educational institutions, hospitals, senior citizens homes, social welfare organizations, nature preservation; in so many places that are crying out for fresh manpower.

This system not only distinguishes between values that are worthy of respect and consideration and values that are not, in effect it doesn’t leave secular girls who are not interested in serving in the army with any option except conscientious objection or draft evasion.

This discrimination should shake the complacency of any citizen to whom democracy is important, and therefore it should be amended. The crucial next step to be implemented – and not at the End of Days – would be to amend the conscription law for men and make it more flexible, so that it includes a choice of doing civilian national service. Because not every man, even if he is Israeli, was born to bear arms.

Another injustice that should be amended, and which bears a strong racist imprint, stems from the fact that the army, although it comes down hard on “draft dodgers,” makes things difficult for candidates for service who are not kosher Jews. We are not referring to Arabs (and that should be protested too,) but Israelis of “dubious” origin, in other words, non-Jewish.

Here is a typical story to illustrate the absurdity: My girlfriend H. (not her real initial) and I gave birth to our daughters in the same year. My paternal grandfather was a Christian who married a Jewish woman, so that their descendants – including me and my children – are considered kosher Jews. My girlfriend, on the other hand, is the daughter of a Christian mother and a Jewish father and is therefore legally a Christian – although, like me, she defines herself as an atheist. Her daughter, like mine, was educated in the Israeli school system, excelled in her studies and received invitations from the army for jobs requiring a high kaba (qualitative ranking).

Here there was a split: My daughter wanted to exchange her military service for civilian national service in the field of education. The army rejected all her pleas, as well as (civilian) medical papers attesting to the fact that she is unfit to serve and that serving would endanger her life. Only at the end of a long and exhausting process was she released, and she enlisted in the ranks of civilian national service.

And what about my friend’s daughter? After she had already been invited to preparatory courses, and even successfully passed various classification exams, suddenly she began to receive notices regarding her unsuitability. It was clear that the problem was not her level – this is a girl who matriculated with the maximum 5 units in mathematics and physics, who has already accumulated teaching experience – but, it transpired, with her origin. She was told that if she wanted various positions to be opened to her, she had to undergo conversion in the framework of the army.

This is not an isolated case. Similar situations were experienced by Israeli-born members of the Ethiopian community. Some of them passed the army exams with excellence, were defined as having a high profile and were designated for elite units, and afterwards were told that, due to their origin in effect, they were not fit for the desired positions and that a conversion course was a necessary condition for reexamining their suitability.

While one arm forcibly grabs those who don’t wish to serve, the other rejects the very people who who long to do so, among them even those who are willing to lay down their lives, and absurdity and racism and inequality march together arm-in-arm.

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