Draft Them Into Our Culture

Battle for the ‘Haredi draft’ contributes empty content that has nothing to do with its own arguments, not even patriotic or militaristic content.

Anyone who demands compulsory military or national service for Israel's Arab citizens cannot avoid the question of whether the state in this case is that of the Jews or that of all its citizens. The reason for this is that the predominant discourse over the Arab draft is racist. Its participants are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and its purpose, beyond the cynical coalition tricks and media spin, is to justify discrimination in the name of non-conscription. To use any other name, such as "Republican," as if to equate Israel with France while denying the centrality of racism, which precedes the discussion of conscription, is disingenuous.

Similarly, it is impossible to speak of drafting Haredim using only the agreeable part of the description - equal - without asking why the people who demand "equal sharing of the burden" are not also demanding a more progressive tax structure, for example, or why the debate on conscription does not include a demand for reducing the duration of compulsory service. Why aren't they out calling for "shorter service for all"? Enemy numbers are declining, after all, and each year the size of the draft cohorts and the military budget increases. Ah, there's the catch.

There is no genuine sense of injustice on the part of reservists hidden under the "equal distribution of the burden" discourse. (After all, they could demand substantive compensation for mandatory service or refuse to serve. ) What there is, though, is an obsession with the real meaning of the term, which is "they shouldn't enjoy themselves." They should be part of the Israeli experience, they should have the same agenda, the same "battle culture," forced on them as it is on us. They should speak like us. Their culture should be one with our culture. They should bow their heads and swear loyalty to our symbols. We want this covert conversion to Israeli society to apply to everyone. Is that desire hollow and meaningless? That is its greatest quality.

This desire becomes obsessive not only in the face of the growing number of "draft-dodgers" and the "natural increase" of the Haredim, but also, and mainly, in the face of the collapse of the dream of finally having a definitive, unchanging "Israeliness." As much as the media invest in cultivating these goods in the weekend newspapers and television programs, no high-school trip to Poland, no "Kochav Nolad" TV talent show, no state funeral nor even Memorial Day can keep the "Israeli" system of symbols from crumbling.

This is not a rarity. There is no Western democracy whose symbols are not crumbling into postmodern capitalism, which ostensibly gives everyone a face (Facebook, for instance ) while in actuality blurs all faces. The battle for the "Haredi draft" contributes empty content that has nothing to do with its own arguments, not even patriotic or militaristic content. This is the political content of an entire class, a class that is close to economic rule and that has no position on any issue that is burning at our feet - not the occupation, nor poverty nor ethnic discrimination. Once it was the Shinui party that rode this complacent bitterness, followed by Kadima and then by Yair Lapid and his parachuted-in partners, and now it's Itzik "We are the new Israelis" Shmuli.

True, there is a lot of old-time Zionist hatred for Haredi Judaism here, but it all revolves around a total vacuum that is there for the taking by the architects of the "political agenda." Occasionally they also speak of another vacuum, "changing the system of government." (No one mentions the idiocy of direct election of the prime minister, drawn up by those in the same socioeconomic circle in the past. ) No one in this gang is speaking about an actual system of government, but rather as a hegemonic heap that feels the power isn't sufficiently "its own" but doesn't really have a principled alternative to the extreme right that is in government.

Worst of all is the possibility that all this will happen, that the Haredim will indeed be drafted into the army. For the sin of giving guns to yeshiva students we were punished with the "hesder yeshivas," combining religious study with military service. That is a very bad combination indeed, God and army.

Read this article in Hebrew