Universal Draft Exemption

The Haredim are not the problem. The problem is the veiled inferiority complex of the non-Haredi public and its representatives, who shout equality while whispering that the Haredim are worth more.

"For we are like tree trunks in the snow," wrote Kafka. "In appearance they lie smoothly and a little push should be enough to set them rolling. No, it can't be done, for they are firmly wedded to the ground. But see, even that is only appearance."

The erratic history of the Tal Law, which regulates the terms of draft deferrals and exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men, exemplifies this metaphor. At first glance the High Court of Justice ruling invalidating the law appears to be a revolutionary measure that expresses the supremacy of the justice system over the political establishment.

But a closer reading shows that the Israeli public and most political parties beat the High Court to the punch. Even before the verdict was issued Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under the pressure of last summer's social protests and additional public and political pressure, did his usual zigzag and declare his support for amending the Tal Law. It was even argued that the High Court decision pulled the chestnuts out of the fire for the establishment, which for the most part is in favor of a new, egalitarian law.

But even that is only appearance. Ehud Barak coined the slogan "One nation, one draft" for his prime ministerial campaign and as premier became the Tal Law's biological father. In a recent television interview to journalist Nissim Mishal the defense Minister welcomed the High Court decision and in the same breath talked up eight to 12 months of civilian service for Haredim. Why not offer this attractive option to non-Haredim as well? Where is the equality, Mr. Barak?

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz speechified resolutely about mandatory conscription for all, but his words were rendered toothless soon afterward by reports that the Israel Defense Forces is incapable of coping with a mass Haredi draft, if only for budgetary reasons. According to information leaked to the media, the army spends several times more on each Haredi conscript than it does on non-Haredi draftees, and that drafting 2,500 Haredim would suck NIS 200 million from the defense budget.

The message is clear: We must praise the yeshiva students, whose mass draft evasion saves us billions. To paraphrase the Passover song, If they had protected us through Torah study and not saved the defense budget, dayenu. If they had saved the defense budget and not volunteered to serve in all our governments, dayenu. If they had served in all our governments but not on the Knesset Finance Committee, dayenu. If they had served on the Knesset Finance Committee and not controlled family-law issues, it would have been enough. How much more do we have to be thankful for when they do all that and are still willing to do more.

It can be assume that defense spending would also decline drastically if few non-Haredim were drafted. Most Haredi conscripts are drafted at the age of 22, when they already married with children, which is why they cost so much. And while we're on the subject of equality, as demanded by the High Court, why shouldn't they be drafted at 18, and for three years, like the rest of us? It's good that some are being offered civilian service, but why shorten it? And why not allow civilian national service to suitable secular Israelis as well, rather than only those deemed mentally or physically unfit for military service? Providing assistance at a hospital or in a rescue services is sometimes just as crucial as military service. Why is it that a Haredi man doing national service is considered a patriot while a secular Israeli doing the same thing is considered a draft dodger or to be mentally unstable?

As part of the discussions about introducing large-scale drafting of Haredim people suddenly started saying that soldiers must be paid a fair wage. My soldier daughter received NIS 300 a month. Will a Haredi soldier settle for that? The message is clear: If we're going to draft the Haredim, then let's draft them into a new and improved IDF, a fun IDF that issues a blanket discharge allowance, upon the completion of service, of NIS 100,000. Otherwise, what's the point?

The Haredim are not the problem. The problem is the veiled inferiority complex of the non-Haredi public and its representatives, who shout equality while whispering that the Haredim are worth more.