Photo: Dudu Bachar
Haredi soldiers
Photo: Dudu Bachar

People's army no longer

Op-ed: Instead of slamming haredi IDF exemptions, time has come for new draft policy

The decision on whether to enlist yeshiva boys for IDF service is a tragic dilemma that has been faced by Israeli society for 63 years now. We have failed to make a clear cut decision, and as result lost on two fronts.


At this time we have two unresolved issues vis-à-vis the haredi community. Firstly, military service. We perform our mandatory IDF service and they do not. Secondly, we work, provide for ourselves and for them, and they do not. How did we reach this state of affairs?


Upon the State's inception, the haredim asked the leadership to absolve them from military service. Our leaders feared the fury of the street and offered a compromise: The haredim will not be granted an exemption. They shall only receive a temporary service postponement.


When a haredi youngster will turn 18, he shall report to the enlistment office and obligate to study at a yeshiva. Based on this obligation, he shall be granted a one-year postponement. At the end of every year, the process shall be repeated, and the haredi boy, who will be a man by now, shall receive a postponement for more years, without a limit.


And so, our past leaders created a situation whereby the haredim do not serve, yet also cannot work, because they must stay at the yeshiva. The result was that we lost them both as soldiers and as workers.


The Tal Law aimed to rectify this situation. It aimed to produce a mechanism that would allow haredim to embark on a "year of decision" where they can work, and once it's over they would look into the possibility of joining the army. Yet the law failed to produce results. Too few haredim started to work or joined the army.


Today, after many years of postponement and vagueness, the time may have come to look at realistic options and give up the impossible. On the one hand, we cannot enlist haredim by force. They see the army as a secular institution that would corrupt their sons. On the other hand, in order to take in the haredim and allow them to adhere to their faith properly, the army would have to renounce important values, such as the equality of women.


Consider a professional army  

The option that remains is to officially exempt the haredim from military service (something that has happened in practice a long time ago) and gain them in the workforce.


And perhaps the solution lies out of the box. The secular fury over what is perceived as haredi draft-dodging is premised on the myth that the IDF is the people's army. Yet the years have passed and this important concept has been eroded. The haredim, and quite a few seculars, no longer enlist for service.


In practice, the IDF has turned a long time ago into the army of half the people. This may be an unpleasant fact, but overall this is a natural process. A liberal democratic state and the people's army are contradictory terms. Self-fulfillment, individualism and humanism are not synonyms for mandatory military service. Indeed, there is growing tension between these terms.


Given this state of affairs, wouldn't it be more appropriate to gradually shift to a professional army? I stress the gradual nature of such change, because I am aware that Israel at its current state needs a powerful army to protect it. Yet wouldn't a professional army comprising people who choose the military as a career and are rewarded accordingly be better? Did anyone seriously consider this option?


Instead of protesting in favor of the forceful enlistment of haredim, an inhumane and unrealistic step, I would propose that protestors demand that the very duty of IDF service be brought back to the agenda. The years that have passed, the values that have changed and the fact that the IDF has turned, in practice, into an army of half the people requires all of us to consider whether a different, more liberal and humanistic draft policy is a better fit for us in this day and age.





פרסום ראשון: 01.31.12, 12:36
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