Israel Shouldn't Force Arabs to Serve

When a government comes to power that fulfills its part in this bargain, Arab citizens will enlist by choice for the good of all.

Supposedly there is no difference between forcing every Jewish citizen of Israel to do military service and extending a civilian national service law on every Arab. Equal rights go hand in hand with equal obligations. But in fact, they don't. In democracy, there is no equality between rights and obligations. In a democratic society, a person's right to a livelihood, education, health and other services, and yes, to dignity, are not conditioned on anything.

And the opposite is also true - one is entitled to one's basic rights regardless of obligations, and must fulfill those obligations regardless of the fulfillment of one's rights. People who evade taxes or refuse to report to the draft board because they are not receiving a public service they're entitled to will be put in jail.

The ultra-Orthodox community does not have to fulfill the obligation of military service to balance out the rights the state gives it. Tens of thousands of indolent Haredi men have been studying Torah while other men their age fell in battle, only because of their political power. If this immoral arrangement comes to an end, it will happen only because the Haredi political parties lost the power needed to perpetuate the distorted relations between the Haredi minority and the rest of the public.

If the Knesset decides to obligate young Arabs to serve the community, it will not be doing this to implement the principle of "if they give, they'll get; if they don't give, they won't get" - a phrase Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coined with regard to negotiations with the Palestinians in the occupied territories. If the standard was equal obligations in exchange for equal rights, Arab citizens would owe nothing to the state. The worn-out idea of requiring Arabs to do national service has come back to the Knesset only because the Arab minority cannot threaten the stability of the coalition.

In the previous Knesset elections, just over 53 percent of Arab voters turned out at the ballot box. In contrast, almost 80 percent vote in municipal elections. My colleague Yossi Verter reported a few weeks ago that Likud is looking for an excuse to separate Knesset elections from municipal elections. That is because the prime minister and his friends on the right fear that Arabs who trouble themselves to vote in the municipal elections will take the opportunity to place an envelope in the Knesset ballot box as well, containing a slip representing a party of the opposing bloc. A rise of 12 percent to 15 percent in the non-Jewish vote could change the balance of power between the two blocs.

It is difficult to fault the Arab minority for losing their faith in the Zionist parties, and for understanding the limitations of the non-Zionist parties, which are excluded from power. They have had their fill of party hacks' promises to push ahead master plans for their communities, to build classrooms and ensure that Arab candidates have a fair chance in tenders for public service jobs. This time they must not make do with mere promises, which dissipate the day after elections. They must make a package deal with the parties of the left and center: "If we get rights, we'll give votes; if we don't get rights, we won't give votes." As the young Jews fighting against Haredi draft evasion put it - don't be suckers.

Instead of staying home or abandoning their interests to corrupt "vote contractors," Israel's Arab citizens must shake off the clan patterns of voting. They must establish a protest movement that will formulate a new contract with the state - a contract that will detail the funding to be allocated to their communities and a timetable for reducing gaps between them and their Jewish neighbors. Hopefully, when the day comes that a government arises that fulfills its part in this bargain, Arab citizens will offer on their own initiative to enlist for the good of all. Until then, let them enlist all their political power to force the state to fulfill its obligations to all its citizens.

If the Arab community makes do with merely feeling sorry for itself over its bitter fate, it will discover that the national civilian service law is not the last law that the right invents to test that community's loyalty to the state, which ignores its rights and its identity. As the president of all of us says: despair is not a policy.