Who Will Choose to Wake Up?

To wake up means, first and foremost, to awaken the education system.

This year I stopped supporting the conscription of Yeshiva students to the army. The lack of equality in sharing the burden still fragments us, in my eyes, and also abuses us, but I have lost my belief that enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces will lead young men with deep non-liberal roots to adopt liberal tolerance.

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And if that is so, I prefer to give up on the idea of ultra-Orthodox young men holding weapons, and certainly to forgo the idea of closed ultra-Orthodox battalions. Also of the hilltop youth. And if it is possible, also of the hundreds of youth who belong to the nationalist educational system and who marched through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on the recent Jerusalem Day, shouting en masse: "Death to the leftists," "Mohammed is dead, Mohammed is dead," "Itbach el-Arab" (Kill the Arabs ) and "May your village burn."

Let them be called up for (civilian ) national service and be given an exemption from the IDF. On the other hand, I hope the trend among some of the secular population to evade the draft will come to a halt, because a sober look at the foreseeable future shows that the possibility we'll have to enter a confrontation over our existence as free men has become increasingly realistic.

People are naturally optimistic - that is our survival mechanism. We deny the fact that most of the young people in Israel, demographically speaking, will within two decades be the sons of nondemocratic sectors, Jews and Muslims. We know how to grab hold of the most unfounded reasoning in order to convince ourselves why a scenario in which there is a Knesset bereft of light, and an army that is loyal to darkness, will not eventuate. Of the ultra-Orthodox, we say, "They won't have a choice but to fit in." Of the political balance of power we say, "Peace will come and the political map will change."

We expect a huge number of miracles for which there is a slim chance. And when the justice minister, Yaakov Neeman, declares that the law of the Torah must be the only law of the state of Israel, we explain with certainty that this is merely obsequious rhetoric. This happens because we have it too good; we have never had it better in our restaurants and on the beaches.

Actually, this happens because we have it so bad; we were never so totally lacking in faith in the ability to change reality as we are now But nevertheless something new did happen this year: During Friday night dinners, in our communities, we started talking about the not unrealistic nightmare that, during our lifetime, or the lifetime of our children, Israel will stop being what it is.

We don't dare to put this polemic on the pages of our newspapers, afraid of it seeming defeatist, but inside of us it is bubbling away because the forces and the voices around us are clear. The question is: How will each of us behave? Who will flee, who will sink, and who will choose to wake up?

To wake up means, first and foremost, to awaken the education system. Not by forcing those sectors who are opposed to it to study Civics, but rather by educating toward the values of freedom starting with the (secular ) state education system. Democracy, in the eyes of the average high-school graduate in Israel, boils down to the principle of "the majority decides." Some of the heads of the educational system have complained that studying Civics "deals too much with criticism of the state," and "increases alienation instead of unifying society."

There has recently been talk about the intentions of senior Education Ministry officials to cut the number of teaching hours for Civics so that half of those hours can be devoted to studying Jewish heritage and Zionist history. Perhaps no one has an interest in educating about democracy and they prefer to teach us to kill ourselves with lack of responsiveness and ignorance, and to sink into deceptive individualism.

A painful test is awaiting the state religious education system, whose graduates are currently spearheading civil action in education, volunteerism, and in senior command positions - but their love of Israel often spawns in them hatred toward the "other" and a continuous tendency to radicalization. Are the character of the state, and individual freedoms, sufficiently important to them so they will fight alongside us? They will have to choose. And just like us, they must put their house in order.