Not by Law Alone

A special branch should be established in the IDF with the aim of increasing the service of the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs on a gradual basis.

Military service for Israel's ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens cannot be accomplished by law alone. As a matter of fact, it probably should not be achieved by legislation at all. The reason is so obvious that it is amazing that our politicians and justices do not realize it.

As everyone understands, the fact that these large communities have been exempted from compulsory military service for decades means that realistically, compulsory service can only be introduced into these communities gradually. But legislation designed to bring about the gradual enlistment of members of a community into the IDF would inevitably be discriminatory in nature, as it would have to favor that community over the rest of Israel's citizens. Additionally, it would have to differentiate between individual members of these communities: Some would be called up for military service at age 18 while others would be allowed to avoid military service until an older age, and still others would be exempted altogether.

It might be argued that the existing law - the Defense Service Law, 1986 - which authorizes the defense minister to call up for military service all citizens who reach the age of eighteen, in effect, also gives the defense minister the authority to apply this law in a discriminatory manner; he can choose to call up some for military service and to exempt others. But there is a great difference between an absence of equality that results from a temporary administrative decision and an inequality that is enshrined in a law.

If the intention of the government is to gradually increase the number of Haredim and Christian and Muslim Arabs who serve in the IDF, is it preferable to do this within the framework of the existing law, with the defense minister exercising the authority he presently has? Or is it better to introduce a new law that would legislate discrimination and favoritism between different segments of Israel's citizens? The obvious advantage of leaving the introduction of military service in these communities to the discretion of the defense minister is that he is in a position to assure that the pace of the introduction of these communities into military service will be coordinated with the needs of the Israel Defense Forces, as well as its ability to accommodate itself to their entry into military service. That might not be the case if their entry into military service would be dictated by legislation, which by necessity would have to be rigid.

But the greatest disadvantage of the legislative solution is that it would enshrine into law discriminatory practices between ethnic and religious communities. As noted above, there is a difference between inequalities that exist in practice, that are recognized and are in the process of being corrected, and legislation that authorizes such inequalities. So how can the defense minister achieve the gradual enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Christian and Muslim Arab into the IDF? The Talmud says that all beginnings are difficult, and this is not going to be easy. But it is possible.

Here are a few suggestions for enlisting young Haredi men into the IDF: An additional ultra-Orthodox battalion should be established. The opportunities for ultra-Orthodox soldiers that have been successful in the air force should be made available in other branches of the IDF. In the ultra-Orthodox towns that are situated beyond the 1949 armistice lines - Modi'in Ilit and Betar Ilit - young men should be called up for military service at the age of eighteen to serve in military units charged with providing security in the vicinity of these towns.

And here are a number of suggestions for the enlistment of young Arab men in the IDF. The Bedouin infantry battalion should be enlarged. Compulsory military service at the age of eighteen should be introduced for the Bedouin in the Galilee and the Bedouin residing in the cities of Lod and Ramle. Members of the Christian Maronite community should be called to serve in the IDF.

No doubt there are many more possibilities. To explore these opportunities, a special branch should be established in the IDF with the aim of increasing the service of the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs in the IDF on a gradual basis. This is preferable to attempting to do this by legislation.