Israeli society is sick. The illness is Jewish fundamentalism. National service to haredim who refuse to join the army is the medicine offered by the witch doctor. Yet there will be no wide-scale national service, and should it be established after all because of weak politicians, it would be corrupt and terribly expensive.
Moreover, such national service would not accelerate the entry of bums into the workforce. It would not produce reconciliation between seculars and haredim. Rather, the dispute between them would grow.
National service would not create peace in our midst because it does not provide a sense of justice. A year of work where haredim serve eight hours a day is not equal to a military service that lasts three years or more.
General Elazar Stern’s proposal to establish purely haredi regiments is even worse. The results of its implementation would be graver the more haredim join such units. The army of God will distinguish itself from the military at large and bow to the authority of officers who adhere to their rabbis’ directives.
Which rabbis will grant their patronage to haredi regiments? At best, it would be the rabbis of the large Lithuanian yeshivas; at worse, it would be radical clerics. The former would ensure strict adherence to Jewish law to the point of paralyzing God’s army. The latter would turn it into a Jewish Hezbollah.
Recipe for civil war
A modern state should not impose a service duty on work that can be undertaken by paid employees. We do not live in the feudal era where vassals were forced to dedicate some of their time to the needs of their landlords. The only anomaly is the art of war. Few would enlist should the State not make use of a measured blend of coercion and the impartation of values.
Values are imparted at home and through the education system. Coercion is only possible in totalitarian systems. As haredi education rejects a life of work and participation in defending the homeland, and as we cannot imprison tens of thousands of yeshiva students (and those pretending to be such,) and as national service would hold justice in contempt, and as purely haredi regiments are a recipe for an armed civil war, and as the haredi community mushrooms as result of natural growth – the national majority has no choice but to embark on a determined cultural war.
Time is of the essence. Should the majority lose this war, the Zionist enterprise would be remembered as a short-lived historical episode.
We need centrist government
There is no choice but to let the draft-dodging haredim be, but we should aim to reduce the number of their grandchildren. This is not an impossible mission. It is not an abusive mission either. This is a mission of salvation. The haredi camp grew because our enlightened society supported this growth. Society was wrong, and it should now correct this distortion.
To that end, we must change the relative system of government. This system (on top of many other drawbacks stemming from it,) grants the haredi minority unfair influence on resource distribution and on the religious establishment’s relationship with the civilian state.
In political terms, only a centrist government that does not depend on the haredim would be able to erode the immense power of the haredi education system and affect the demographic trend. The urgency of this move must be recognized by the large secular parties. Something must be done, even before the next elections.