Tens of thousands call for universal service in TA

Protesters march from 'Camp Sucker' to Tel Aviv Museum Plaza in call for more equal distribution of service burden.

July 7, 2012 23:29
3 minute read.
Tel Aviv protesters call for universal service

Draft protest 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)


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Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night to voice their demand for universal enlistment in the army or in civilian national service, in the largest protest of the summer to date, and the biggest show of force since the “Camp Sucker” movement began six months ago.

The protest began with a march from Camp Sucker’s faux military base south of the Arlozorov train station to the Tel Aviv Museum Plaza, where a small crowd of around 2,000 made their way to the protest, chanting, “One people, one draft” and “Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu], you promised, now do it!” among other slogans tying the issue of universal service to the cause of social justice.

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“Something is rotten in Israeli politics,” former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin said from the stage. He said the day is coming where the majority of Israelis will not serve their country.

Diskin, who has been very critical of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in recent months, added that he doesn’t feel like a sucker for having served, calling it a privilege. He also said that he and others are tired of their money going to support people who do not serve. A roar of applause greeted his words.

The demonstrators did not appear to be from the usual Tel Aviv protest group, and were made up largely of suburban families, couples and students from around the Tel Aviv area. There were very few national-religious protesters, probably due to the fact that the protest was held soon after Shabbat ended.

Rehovot resident Tamir Shafir, 39, carried his eightyear- old son Ido atop his shoulders during the march, and said that he came after nearly two decades of serving in an elite IDF unit.

“If things don’t change by the time he [Ido] turns 18, I won’t want him to serve in the army,” Shafir said.

The protest came after Netanyahu tried on Monday to dissolve the Keshev Committee, which was tasked with finding ways to draft the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs into the army or national service.

Front and center at the crowd stood Israel Cohen, an 80-year-old double amputee, leaning his metal prosthetic arms over the barricade.

Cohen said he lost his arms in an explosion toward the end of the Six Day War, when his infantry unit was clearing a house in a hostile village outside Nablus.

Cohen said he came to the protest from Ramat Gan to show his support for universal mandatory service, “something that should have been done years ago, and something that Bibi can do today with the 94-seat coalition he has.”

Cohen said the public debate is an opportunity for change to happen. “I’m very happy this is finally turning around; the army is for all of the people and all of the people must be for the army,” he said.

The march drew more than a dozen organizations, from both the Left and the Right, as well as the National Union of Israeli Students and several groups devoted to religious freedom and to helping reservists and discharged soldiers. The protest was billed as nonpolitical and nonpartisan, though there were many posters and signs for Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party, and its activists were out in force handing out T-shirts from the nascent political movement.

Toward the end of the rally, Annette Haskiyah, an Israeli-Arab mother from Kfar Vradim, spoke of the need for also implementing universal service in the Arab sector, and used the example of her children who have served in the IDF, including a son who is now joining the Golani Infantry Brigade.

“I call on Israeli Arabs: Leave your ghetto, go out into the streets and stop being silent, bitter and discriminated against. You have an opportunity to protest against racism and discrimination; don’t listen to Arab MKs, they are leading you into an abyss,” she said.

Haskiyeh, a Muslim, also spoke in Arabic and talked about what the army has done for her four children, all of whom served, she said, and met amazing people during their time in the army.

Former IDF chiefs Gabi Ashkenazi and Dan Halutz attended the protest, as well as former deputy IDF chief Moshe Kaplinsky and former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

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