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What About Equality at Military Funerals?

Nehemia Shtrasler
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Israeli soldiers carry a coffin of an IDF Sargent, at the military cemetery in Jerusalem, July 23, 2014.
Israeli soldiers carry a coffin of an IDF Sargent, at the military cemetery in Jerusalem, July 23, 2014.Credit: AP
Nehemia Shtrasler

The committee headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Roni Numa that examined the data on Haredi enlistment in the army didn’t come up with any surprises. What it told us was what we have known for years: The Israel Defense Forces has been lying about the draft figures.

The message from above was that the army must meet its enlistment goals, so the officers in the field faked the data, manipulated it, exceeded the instructions of the law and were severely negligent in their work – just so the commanders of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate could tell the chief of staff: We have met our objective. Even to the point of including 46 women in their tally of Haredim who enlisted.

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The problem is that even the few who did enlist in ultra-Orthodox units were not really ultra-Orthodox. Anyone who once studied in a yeshiva during their junior high or high school years and abandoned religion was also counted as being Haredi. The same goes for young men who dropped out of yeshiva at a slightly older age. In Bnei Brak they call them “shababnikim” – a term used for those who dropped out of every school framework and sit around doing nothing all day. Those who found religion, known as ba’alei tshuvah, and Chabad Hasidim who enlist anyway, were counted too. In short: The IDF couldn’t manage to recruit even a single yeshiva student.

Even worse: The Numa committee exceeded its authority and presented recommendations that would mean completely giving up on recruiting Haredim, so that they can continue on their own path. Let them work, study, do what their hearts desire – the IDF will get by just fine without them. This is arrogance. The committee is really saying that Haredim are not good enough to serve in the IDF.

To justify this strange position, the committee invented a new type of “inequality.” Inequality in the IDF is that which exists between a Haredi man who enlisted at an older age, when he was married and had children – and as a result receives a higher salary – and an non-religious single man who is drafted at age 18 and receives a low salary, said the committee. That’s the story, dear committee? That’s the problem? You couldn’t manage to see the elephant in the room? You don’t care that not a single military funeral leaves from Bnei Brak or Mea She’arim?

After all, the Haredim themselves know that evading a war we are commanded to conduct is a violation of Jewish religious law, but their goal is clear: They don’t want their sons to be injured in Gaza or Lebanon. They want the secular and religious (non-Haredi) suckers to continue to die for them. After all, military service could very well end in an injury or death. It is also clear that if 15 percent of young people are not drafted, the burden on all the rest (secular and religious) will grow greatly, and they will be forced to serve a longer time in the army and the reserves.

There is a hidden assumption behind the committee’s recommendation, that if Haredim receive an exemption from military service they will leave the yeshivas en masse and go out and find jobs. This is a baseless hope. Even after they receive the exemption, it will still be worthwhile for a Haredi man to continue to be a full-time yeshiva student and not work. They will continue to enjoy a higher status in society and at home, and get the rest of the benefits the government provides: A yeshiva student’s allowance, rent support, discounts for National Insurance and the health tax, discounts for day care and much more.

It is actually military service, which provides Haredim with a basic education during their third year of service, that will send the newly released young Haredi man into the job market – and we’re not even talking about those who acquire an in-demand technological profession in the IDF.

The committee is also ignoring the fact that exempting Haredim from service will seriously harm the willingness of many nonreligious people to serve in the army. They will not agree to continue to be “the Messiah’s donkey.” At the same time, many religious and traditional people will join the Haredi world with the goal of evading the draft, which will cause a manpower shortage in the IDF and an increase in the power of the Haredi parties.

Instead of surrendering to the Haredi draft-dodging, we must move in the exact opposite direction: Cancel the proposed draft law – that Avigdor Lieberman supported. This is a bill that sets such low conscription goals that it is almost ridiculous, and lacks effective sanctions if these targets are not met. This is a law that would enable the Haredim to completely and legally evade the draft.

Those who see the Haredim as equals must support full enlistment for them, the same as for everyone else, at age 18 – without exceptions, without quotas and without such tricks as “national service.” This is the only way to heal society.