Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jul/12

7

A Question of Identity

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I’m no fan of conscription, to put it mildly, but, if a state is going to insist on it, it should do so fairly.That does not appear to be the case in Israel, where the ability of the ultra-orthodox to avoid compulsory military service smacks more of religious privilege than religious freedom.

The New York Times reports:

Last year, about 17 percent of 18-year-old Haredim [ultra-orthodox] joined the Army, compared with about 75 percent of other Jewish men; an additional 14 percent of Haredim and 8 percent of Arab citizens signed up for civilian service. Over all, just over half of Israelis now do military duty, a far cry from the generally accepted notion that there is a universal draft.

But Israel’s governing coalition is in trouble over plans to change the rules granting an exemption from the draft to thousands studying in the country’s yeshivas (thanks to a Supreme Court ruling it is obliged to do so by August 1):

The leader of a committee that Mr. Netanyahu appointed — and this week disbanded — to prepare a replacement law released a 100-page report on Wednesday that called for 80 percent of the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the military by 2016, and for fines of about $25,000 for those who do not.

Shaul Mofaz, the Kadima Party leader whose surprise alliance with Mr. Netanyahu two months ago created an unheard-of 94-seat majority in the 120-member Parliament, said Wednesday that he would quit the coalition within days if the committee’s work did not form the basis of the new law. But religious and right-wing factions have also vowed to bolt the coalition if personal sanctions are included or Arabs are not drafted as well.

“It’s a possibility of civil war between sectors,” said Yedidia Stern, who…served on the committee charged with rewriting the draft law.

“What’s at stake is two cultures, two civilizations,” Professor Stern added, referring to the ultra-Orthodox…and other Jews here. “These two civilizations used to live in some kind of peace because each one thought that the other is going to disappear eventually. Nowadays I think everybody realizes that the two camps are here to stay, and we have to decide what will be the identity in the public sphere.”

At issue is not so much the pragmatic needs of the military, where integrating large numbers of Haredim promises to be more hassle than help, but a growing resentment over who serves the state and who reaps its rewards. Last year, about 17 percent of 18-year-old Haredim joined the Army, compared with about 75 percent of other Jewish men; an additional 14 percent of Haredim and 8 percent of Arab citizens signed up for civilian service. Over all, just over half of Israelis now do military duty, a far cry from the generally accepted notion that there is a universal draft.

…Some 56 percent of Haredim live in poverty, and the average annual income in their community is about half that of the national norm, with many of their large families relying on welfare, housing grants and subsidies for yeshiva study.

If demographics are destiny, it makes sense that this long-simmering tension is reaching a rolling boil. While Haredim account for less than 10 percent of Israel’s seven million citizens, and Arabs 20 percent, their high birthrates mean that about 46 percent of today’s kindergartners come from the two groups, growth that is “challenging the basic formula” of Israeli society, according to Aluf Benn, editor of the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz.

“These groups don’t want a larger slice of the pie, they want a different recipe,” Mr. Benn said in an interview. “If Israel defines itself as a Jewish democratic state, the Arabs would do away with the Jewish part, and the ultra-Orthodox at least in their dream would get rid of the democracy. They respect the authority of the rabbis.”

Einat Wilf, one of five lawmakers who served on the committee, said that the solution was not a universal draft, but an acceptance that “the people’s army” is a fiction — and a reworking of benefits accordingly.

“We have to accept the fact that 64 years ago they did not want the state to come about, and they still have no faith in the structures of the state,” Ms. Wilf said, referring to the utra-Orthodox and Arab citizens. “Solidarity is a two-way street. The state will guarantee everyone the absolute minimum, but beyond that the state will reward people who give, not just people who take.”

Starship Troopers here we come?

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1 comment

  • sg · July 15, 2012 at 12:10 am

    When my brother was in the Marines, he said that if he ever got in a battle, the first guy he would shoot would be the guy next to him because he was so stupid he would get him killed. I will assume that was youth and exasperation talking, however there is a little truth in there. If the dodgers aren’t exactly assets, it might be better to leave well enough alone.

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