The notes I receive from overseas emphasize the threats to Israel from Iran and its friends, and the threat to the peace of the region and elsewhere if Israel preempts and seeks to destroy Iran''s nuclear capacity.
Here, in contrast, political energies are concentrating on the implications of a Supreme Court decision requiring a change in the military options provided to ultra-Orthodox men.
Iran is too big an issue for Israeli politics. Decisions will be made in the closed confines of the uppermost political and military levels, with a heavy input from Washington. Whatever happens will not likely depend on which party is at the head of the Israeli government.
The issue of Haredim and the IDF, in contrast, is material for the street, coffee houses, media, and the inner- and intra-party squabbles that are the essence of Israeli politics and much of its social life..
David ben Gurion began the problem by providing a general exemption from military service for the students in ultra-Orthodox religious academies (yeshivot). At the time, the numbers of men exempted were a few hundred each year. Ben Gurion''s decision occurred in the context of the extraordinary losses suffered in the Holocaust by the ultra-Orthodox of Central and Eastern Europe, and perhaps the feeling that the incidence of young men choosing an ultra-Orthodox life would decline in the context of a modern, largely secular society.
Opps. The great man saddled the country with a load that current politics has been unable to shed.
Coddled by financial support received from the state for study, early marriage and many children, the numbers have grown to the point where they arguably threaten the economic viability of Israel.
Historically, Jewish communities supported a small number of brilliant students. They typically became rabbis, were provided with brides from the daughters of other rabbis or community leaders, and contributed to the gene pool that has subsequently done well in competition for Nobel Prizes and other good things.
Israel is the first place where any young man, gifted or not, can expect public support for a modest life style (typically under the poverty line), lots of children, and none of the messy competition that secular peers have to endure for acceptance to universities, and continuing as long as they want without the bother of examinations. Monitors do not check carefully to see if the students receiving support are actually studying in the academies all day and every day, and if the academies are reporting accurately on the number of students for whom they receive financial support from the state treasury.
The annual number of military exemptions may now reach 60,000. The problem is expected to grow, insofar as the incidence of utlra-Orthodox children in primary schools has grown from less than 7 percent in 1960 to more than 28 percent in 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/
world/middle-east/israeli- taubcenter.org.il/ religious-party-says-military- exemptions-ruling-wont- threaten-ruling-coalition/ 2012/02/22/gIQAbWSfSR_story. html tauborgilwp/wp.../s-Education- System-Chapter.pdf
Researchers and advocates quarrel about the success of the program meant to encourage young Haredim to leave their academies for a short stint in the military, and then a return to the academies or life of employment. The majority of Supreme Court justices ruled that the program discriminated against secular Israelis, whose military service is mandatory, lengthier, more rigorous, and less well compensated than that of the ultra-Orthodox. Moreover, the Court found that the existing program was not effective in leading significant numbers of ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF.
It took only a few hours for politicians, analysts, and advocates from all parts of Israel''s political spectrum to offer their proposals. The Prime Minister promised to convene a committee representing secular, religious (i.e., Orthodox) and ultra-Orthodox figures to hammer out an appropriate solution within the time frame indicated by the Supreme Court.
The proposals include options of military service or community service (e.g., work in hospitals, schools, or with the needy). Advocates are arguiing that the principle of mandatory national service should apply to Arabs as well as the ultra-Orthodox. Among the ethnic minorities of Israel, it is only Druze and Circassian males who face mandatory military service (exempted are the Druze of the Golan, who retain an affinity to Syria). Significant numbers of Beduin choose to enlist. The incidence of other Arabs, who compose the majority of the minority population, remain outside those drafted or who serve as volunteers.
Those speaking about drafting all Arab young men would provide them, like the Haredim, with the option of civilian service within their own communities.
If the mandatory enlistment of young women has surfaced somewhere in the discussion, I have not noticed it. The topic is especially sensitive to religious Jews as well as to Druze and Muslims, and is likely to remain in the realm of volunterism. Jewish women are drafted, but not those claiming to be religious. The IDF has its procedures for investigating and punishing young people who break the law in trying to evade military service, including women who claim to be religious but are seen driving on the Sabbath.
The IDF is notably unenthusiastic about the recruitment of Haredim. The population is less impressive physically than other Israelis. Young Haredi men have not, for the most part, been exposed to family stories or teachers that instill a patriotic willingness for sacrificing time or life for the sake of Israel. They are likely to be a greater than average burden for IDF units that select candidates for recruitment or rejection, and train recruits. The arrangements for their service will most likely involve a shorter term than for other recuirts, making them even less attractive material for the army.
Yet politicians are competing with their ideas and their enthusiasm for dealing with the inequalities involved in the exemption of ultra-Orthodox men. Anti-Haredi sentiment is at a high point, due to scandals concerning the treatment of women, Yair Lapid''s move from the media to politics, and his late father''s posture as anti-Haredi. Lapid is positioning himself in the anti-Haredi camp, but he may do no more than split the vote to be gathered by other parties maneuvering in the same direction. The result may be one more small or middle sized Knesset delegation, making it easier for Likud to create yet another coalition with religious and ultra-Orthodox parties.
The substantial number of Israelis who are outspokenly sceptical and cynical are not expecting much of an improvement as a result of the Supreme Court decision. They see another Israbluff in the making, i.e., a legislative program agreed to by members of the present coalition, which appears to widen the recruitment of the ultra-Orthodox, but with enough provisions to "recognize their religious commitments and their life style" to lessen the significance of any change.