No Excuse for Evasion

Discrimination against Israel's Arab minority requires correction, but it cannot serve as a pretext for the evasion of national service.

First there was the withdrawal of representatives of Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi from the Plesner Committee tasked with creating an alternative to the Tal Law on military service. This was followed by the departure from the committee of the ultra-Orthodox representative, attorney Jacob Weinroth, and by threats by Kadima leaders over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intention not to impose personal sanctions against draft dodgers. Finally, the committee was disbanded yesterday by the prime minister. All of these events make it clear that the politicians' concern is not for the suckers who bear the heavy burden of military service, but rather to ensure that they themselves do not end up being suckers. Heaven forbid they should appear to concede their own interests for the good of the public.

Those opposed to the text formulated by the committee made two demands: No personal sanctions should be imposed on ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers; and the duty to enlist must be applied also to the entire Arab population. These claims contradict one another.

If implemented, the first demand would impose sanctions on the institution in which a Haredi draft evader studies, instead of punishing the individual, in this way creating a unique enclave to shield ultra-Orthodox individuals from the law that imposes personal sanctions on every other draft dodger. The second demand espouses total equality. Such equality, it is superfluous to mention, does not exist in the Israeli reality - not in the budgets for Arab towns and villages, not in the workplaces that are accessible to Arabs, and not in the apartments they want to rent in Jewish cities.

This discrimination indeed requires correction, but it cannot serve as a pretext for the evasion of national service. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore that the political reality and the national history create a difficult dilemma for the Arabs. This was understood by past governments and they refrained from forcing Arab citizens to enlist. This understanding is even more essential for a government that continues to treat the Arab minority with suspicion.

At the same time, it is impossible not to demand of Arab citizens that they share the burden - whether inside their own community or outside of it. Shirking this duty actually increases the Arab population's dependence on the state and gives the state another pretext for continuing to deprive the Arabs, and at the same time it pushes them to the margins of Israeli public life.