The Israeli-Arab community and political leadership will only be willing to
discuss participation in national-service programs if the issue is linked to
addressing inequality in the Arab sector, Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Muhammad
Darawshe, co-directors of the Abraham Fund coexistence organization, told the
Keshev Committee on Tuesday.
The Keshev Committee is tasked with finding
an alternative for the “Tal Law” that would lead to a more equal societal
division in regards to military and national service.
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Darawshe, if dialogue were to be conducted with the Higher
Arab Monitoring Committee, an extra-parliamentary organization representing
Arabs citizens, and elected Israeli- Arab leaders separately from the issue of
the Tal Law, then it would be possible to reach agreements on the issue within
as little as six months.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee has so far
refused to participate in the Keshev Committee’s deliberations and has not sent
any representatives to sit as members.
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said that given
the level of inequality experienced by the Arab community in numerous areas of
society, the leadership is unwilling to separate the demands of its constituents
from the national service requirements demanded by the state.
such a wide discrepancy between the status of Jews and Arabs in the country that
the Arab community does not feel it can discuss the issue of sharing the burden
of national service while ignoring all other aspects of life in Israel in which
they are in a much inferior situation than the Jewish population,”
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu told The Jerusalem Post.
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu’s understanding, the Arab political leadership would be
willing to discuss several options for enabling voluntary community service to
function as national service for the Arab community, initially in the Arab
sector and then possibly further afield in the future.
incentives would attract many Arab youngsters to community service programs, he
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu also emphasized that the two-month window
allotted for replacing the Tal Law would be insufficient to address the issue of
Arab national service, and pointed to the fact that the government has engaged
in dialogue with the haredi community for over a decade to try to resolve issues
of ultra- Orthodox national service.
“If a sincere effort is made to
reach out to the Arab political leadership to engage them in dialogue on the
issues of inequality as well as national service, then a formula could be agreed
on,” Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said.
In response to the comments made by
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Darawshe during Tuesday’s hearing, Keshev Committee
chairman MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) said that efforts have been made to get
Arab representatives onto the committee and to establish dialogue with them,
which have so far failed.
Plesner stated that he was “disappointed to
find that representatives of the Arab leadership continue to miss historic
opportunities for change, which leads them nowhere.”
Israeli Arabs are
not drafted by the IDF. There are approximately 2,000 Israeli Arabs who
volunteer for national service programs every year, according to the National
Civil Service Volunteers Association.
During Tuesday’s hearings, former
head of the IDF Manpower Directorate Maj.-Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern
presented figures to the committee that he claimed showed that there are
approximately 10,000 ultra-Orthodox men enrolled in full-time yeshiva study
programs – through which they indefinitely defer military service – but who are
not actually studying.
Stern said it would be possible to draft these men
within six months to combat roles in the IDF, and added that senior
representatives of the haredi community, including ministers, have approached
him to advance the recruitment of these men.
There are approximately
58,000 ultra- Orthodox men currently enrolled in full-time yeshiva study
programs that allow them to defer their national service.