I am an Oleh Chadash, having recently made aliyah from Australia. One of the primary reasons I did so was ideological – out of a desire to be more involved in, and contribute to the wellbeing of the people and State of Israel.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to be at the Western Wall while an induction ceremony was being held for the Golani Brigade, an IDF combat unit.
The searing pride in the eyes of these soldiers as they received their stripes - at the holiest of Jewish sites of all places - was unmistakable.
My initial reaction was an overwhelming sense of gratitude, because these kids – yes, that’s what they are, just kids; barely 20 years old, are putting their lives on the line so that I can sleep comfortably at night in the safety of my home in Tel Aviv.
My next reaction was one of immense regret - that I did not make aliyah sooner, so that I too could serve in the IDF. I am now 32 years old, so the IDF might be a little past my time (though it will not stop me from still trying).
Nevertheless, I will look to make my contribution elsewhere – be it volunteering with victims of terror, Holocaust survivors or the homeless and needy. In short, there is no lack of opportunity in Israel to make a contribution – if one wants to.
Moreover, as an Oleh Chadash, I am the recipient of numerous benefits from the State, and as such, feel an added obligation to contribute back.
But I am no different in that regard; as citizens of Israel, we all receive benefits from the State. The difference being however – not all members of society share equally in the national burden.
This brings me to the issue of the Tal Law, which expired on 31 July 2012, after Israel’s High Court ruled in February that it was unconstitutional, ordering the Knesset to pass new legislation – something it has still failed to do.
Simply put, it is unfathomable that there are kids who put their lives on the line to defend the State, or those who contribute through the myriad of civil or national service opportunities, while parts of Israeli society sit back and bear the fruits of their service.
Enough is enough. Don’t want to contribute? Well, the response should be quite simple – lose your State benefits, or go to the back of the queue behind those who do contribute.
However, for all the talk by the major political parties in Israel about the “urgent need” to reform the Tal Law; to make it more “equitable”, so far, only one party – Yisrael Beiteinu – has actually done something about it and put forward a bill in the Knesset.
The Yisrael Beiteinu bill is actually rather straightforward: ALL citizens, irrespective of their faith or background must enlist in the IDF or perform national or civil service from age 18 – no ifs, buts, gimmicks, exemptions or excuses. Under their proposed legislation, those who do not serve would not be entitled to State benefits.
Who could argue with that logic, right? Well, apparently those same parties who waste no opportunity to huff and puff about the need to amend the Tal Law, proved last July that for them, the issue is just a matter of paying lip service – when they voted down the bill 74 to 22 in the Knesset.
In doing so, they wasted a golden opportunity to address this long overdue injustice. The magnitude of this failure was all the more historic given it was one of the primary reasons for Kadima joining the coalition earlier this year – to produce an alternative to the Tal Law.
However, the Likud-Kadima dalliance failed largely because the Likud wanted to defer the haredim’s service until at least the age of 26, while Kadima either overlooked or sought too many exemptions for Israeli Arabs. In effect, what was being suggested was a band-aid solution that would only perpetuate the ongoing burden of inequality.
Israel is like no other society, in which serving in the IDF and performing national service is indispensable to its very existence; a rite of passage that goes to the very core of what it means to be Israeli.
For too long, a vast majority of Israelis have been shouldering this burden, while others have been riding on the back of their blood, sweat and sacrifice. This must end immediately. There must be no differentiation between Jew, Arab, Christian, religious or secular – ALL Israelis must share equally in the national burden without favor or exemption.
John F. Kennedy famously said in his 1961 inauguration speech: "My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." It is time Israelis asked not what the country can do for them, but what they can do for Israel.
Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer, foreign policy analyst and freelance journalist. He recently made Aliyah from Australia.