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Only education can equalize the burden
By HAIM BIBAS
27/01/2013
If equalizing the burden is to become a long-term national priority, then we must realize that there is no quick-fix solution.
 
There are few more emotive issues in Israel today than the need to create a more equitable system of military conscription and national service. The prospects for a universal draft may be just one of many core issues at the heart of the current election campaign, yet you can be sure that equalizing the burden will undoubtedly be near the top of the agenda of any incoming government.

While much of the debate on conscription over the coming months will likely revolve around precise calculations of time-frames and potential recruits, any effective strategy to truly widen military and national service participation must include a meaningful educational plan in order to secure the long-term change so desperately needed.

QUITE SIMPLY there is a direct correlation between education and recruitment for military and national service. In the latest IDF enlistment figures released this month, the municipality of Modi’in Maccabim- Re’ut, of which I am mayor, was found to have the highest recruitment rate in Israel for the second year running.

Calculated as a combination of the ratio of recruits and the number of combat soldiers and officers, it is an achievement for the entire city of which I am enormously proud. However, it is an accomplishment that has been attained not by chance, but through a carefully constructed city-wide educational plan, incorporating the efforts of parents and schools alike.

For several years, high schools in Modi’in have participated in educational enrichment activities highlighting the importance of the IDF in Israeli society while army representatives visit 11th- and 12thgraders to give practical help preparing for their mobilization.

Meanwhile, several schools have “adopted” an army division, helping support their soldiers and becoming part of the life of the unit. Our city’s educational commitment has immeasurably helped to produce a generation of young people more motivated than ever to enlist and contribute to the greater good of their community and their country.

It is a model which can and should be replicated across Israel. Sadly we live in an age where the desire to serve can no longer be taken for granted. In geographical areas where draft rates are low, a culture in which refusal becomes a socially acceptable and valid choice can easily spread.

Breaking this damaging cycle is reliant not only upon the force of legislation and the threat of punishment, but a sound education which enthuses and encourages our young people to make the active choice to serve. Such a process will ensure that cities, towns and communities will reap the rewards. Over time, they will inevitably benefit from a young population with access to the enhanced educational and employment opportunities made possible by quality service.

OF COURSE, the kind of initiative that is in place in Modi’in, rooted in Zionist education and commitment is unlikely to increase the integration of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab youth into military and national service frameworks. However, the educational principle behind the idea applies in equal measure.

The introduction of suitable educational programs in haredi and Arab schools must be made possible to help these communities slowly but surely internalize the benefits of service. There are any number of initiatives which would illustrate for them the positive impact of enlistment.

Partnering Arab schools with welfare projects in their own towns and villages would make a valuable contribution to entire municipalities. Meanwhile, haredi soldiers could be the role models to demonstrate to the youth of their community that military service can complement a Torah-observant lifestyle.

Alternatively, simply learning how the values of charity, communal responsibility and volunteerism are rooted in Jewish and Arab culture and religion can help to normalize the idea of national or military service in both communities.

If equalizing the burden is to become a long-term national priority, then we must realize that there is no quick-fix solution. While legislation and court rulings can institute forced enlistment, service in the haredi and Arab communities and elsewhere can only be sustainable if it becomes a service of choice.

This requires a sophisticated strategy aimed at truly changing attitudes.

Our national leaders have struggled until now to find a satisfactory formula to facilitate a more equal draft. If equitable enlistment is to become a reality, then education must be at least part of the solution.

The results speak for themselves in Modi’in. Now we must replicate this success elsewhere for the sake of all Israelis.

The writer is the mayor of the city of Modi’in Maccabim- Re’ut.
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