The High Court of Justice has cancelled the automatic Haredi exemption from IDF service. Following the ruling, a question that hasn’t been a major part of the Israeli agenda has resurfaced: Is it possible to sustain the Israel Defense Forces as a professional army of hired workers, which carefully selects its fighters, pays them a decent and appropriate salary based on their jobs, and isn’t seen as a system that forces itself for several years on young people who have just begun their adult life?
An exemption based on sectorial affiliation is clearly a problematic issue, which deserves a separate discussion, but from a wider perspective, anyone who has served in the army should put their hand on their heart and ask themselves: Have we gotten used to blindly believing that compulsory IDF service is a solution that has no alternative? Why do we rush to marginalize discussions on shaping Israeli society in other ways?
The Defense Ministry has the largest budget of all government ministries. It has been this way since the state’s establishment. This budget has several negative implications: Is there anyone who hasn’t seen, during his or her reserve service, the soldiers the army could do without but were drafted only because of the compulsory conscription law? Is there anyone who hasn’t encountered the hidden unemployment among soldiers just because there were available jobs that have no actual meaning? Is there anyone who hasn’t heard about economic offenses like stealing equipment and even large amounts of fuel, or criminal offenses that include stealing weapons and selling them to criminal organizations?
Many people present the opposite argument, hailing the “people’s army” concept. But this argument is an empty shell in today’s Israel. A smart army is better than the people’s army. It will allow us taxpayers to save on a huge security budget and divert the money to equally important goals, like improving education and offering food security to the Israeli society’s needy. A society’s strength is measured, after all, by its investment in its weak links.
If the IDF uses a strict screening system to select soldiers for combat roles, not only will it find itself with the finest people in real time, but it will also convey a clear message that not everyone is capable and worthy of holding a weapon, thereby turning the position of fighter into a desirable target.
Is it possible that the IDF is refraining from doing so because compulsory service is the easy solution for the system? It’s a possibility that cannot be disregarded. After all, complex screening is a process that requires time and long-term considerations. But it’s the only way for the defense establishment to know it has the young men and women with not only the highest combat skills, but also the highest morals—people who are serving far away from home not because the state is asking to be served, but because they wish to serve their country wholeheartedly, while seeking to secure a respectable profession in the future. The same applies of course to soldiers serving in combat support units.
It’s 2017, and the existential threat the State of Israel faces isn’t the same threat it faced in its first years. Israel no longer needs a melting pot in the form of "a people builds an army that builds a people.” It’s time to grow up and realize that a smart, rewarding and uncomplex defense establishment will be able to function even without soldiers who have been forced to serve against their will, regardless of whether they are Haredi or secular.