At last we're blessed with a defense minister who's supersensitive to grassroots sentiments. Ehud Barak habitually made pandering to any given day's most manipulative headlines his hallmark. Who can forget his apology to Sephardi immigrants on behalf of deceased generations of Laborites, his (alas never fulfilled) promises to the nameless old woman in Nahariya's hospital corridor or his dispatching the country's poor to their neighbors' fridges?
Topping it all were subterranean Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount and the unilateral midnight flight from Lebanon - in response to the "Four Mothers" hysteria whipped up by the hardly impartial media.
Politically prominent again, Ehud chose to do the popular thing and grab some limelight by denouncing draft-dodging - indisputably a pernicious demoralizing affliction for a nation facing unparalleled genocidal threats. Barak was right to warn that the IDF is fast becoming "the army of half the nation." Opportunely, however, he omitted noting the identity of that dedicated half - perhaps because it includes too many uncool denigrated Zionists.
Haredim and Arabs have never pulled their weight - not in the military nor even in service to their own communities. There's no news on these two fronts. What's raising justifiable alarm is the growing phenomenon of dodgerism among ostensibly mainstream Israelis and the lenience toward it. Dodgers once went to inordinate lengths to camouflage their draft-evasion. Shame kept it from becoming widespread. Nowadays university professors sign pro-dodging petitions, while denying consideration to student-reservists.
IN PAST TACKs we mentioned Lior Dayan, grandson of quintessential sabra-soldier Moshe Dayan. Young Lior crows about the ease with which "a short session" with a cooperative shrink terminated his military service "for utterly narcissistic motives," after merely eight snug months in an army PR unit. This didn't prevent him from becoming a showbiz heartthrob, and he isn't the only celeb-offspring to consider himself too good to endure what the children of the less rich-and-famous or Orange Crowd youngsters don't avoid.
Singer Shlomo Artzi's pride-and-joy, Ben, also pursues a crooning career and makes no bones about having skipped that formative Israeli rite of passage - the IDF stint. His fan-base wasn't thereby adversely affected and he doubtlessly constitutes an attractive model for emulation.
Ben and Lior might even make it as big as Lior's uber-radical cousin Aviv Geffen. The latter Dayan-clan scion threatened to commit suicide if drafted and forced to waste time in the IDF. Not only wasn't he stigmatized, but Yitzhak Rabin publicly embraced Geffen (ironically at the rally which preceded Rabin's assassination). The draft-dodger was in position to boost a premier's sagging popularity, while the ex-general PM could confer legitimacy on the dodger.
The symbiotic pattern continues. Army Radio planned to award Geffen his own show - nothing unusual for this ultra-leftist station, which resounds with defeatist propaganda. Atypically, indignant protests managed to nudge its latest programming coup to the back burner - for now. Had Israel abided private radio enterprises of which Army Radio was one, it could feature anyone. But Army Radio is an IDF organ. This redundant burden on taxpayers (NIS 50 million annually) hardly infuses patriotism and motivation. That said, the very proposal to star dodgers on a purportedly military platform is guaranteed to undermine any residual esprit de corps.
IF BARAK weren't only after another publicity-generating ploy, he'd actually do something. Surely he needs no reminder that Army Radio resides within his ministerial jurisdiction. Nothing prevents him from preempting the mockery of dodgers preaching to conscripts.
Likewise, Barak can cut the psychobabble that allows spoiled brats to avoid service or significantly shorten it. Barak possesses the power to eliminate the authority of mental health officers (KABANs, by IDF acronym) to discharge recruits. He can mandate second and third opinions by ever-altering panels of independent shrinks in divergent parts of the country (to lessen the chance of buying-off professionals, as well as to inconvenience potential dodgers).
Additionally there must be no release from service even in cases that truly tug at specialists' heartstrings. Distressed soldiers will only get furloughs for any number of months, during which they'll report to military psychiatrists at overcrowded regional clinics for weekly check-ups. That ought to quickly distinguish between the truly ill and the artful fakers. At present the system neglects genuinely troubled soldiers but is subverted by smart alecks who play it for suckers.
Things must be made less easy for the host of shirkers and malingerers who use their KABAN as a quick ticket to civilian leisure, study, jobs, globetrotting and gloating at the saps who keep on serving.
BARAK CAN simply make sure that from here on they can at most obtain leave, which won't be subtracted from their total service period but would be added on to it. Such uncomplicated moves can douse the enthusiasm of strapping, healthy individuals to procure psychiatric discharge, while care for those who authentically need it will remain available.
The brilliant IDF brainwave of changing the wording of infamous Clause 21 from "medical unsuitability" to "severe misconduct" is hardly likely to do the trick for a generation raised to regard no measure of selfishness as excessively embarrassing. Any chump with eyes can see that Israel's most affluent and influential classes tolerate draft-dodging to a degree that erases disgrace.
Indeed those who shun their duty are treated with the affectionate indulgence reserved for the establishment's own darling descendants, whose naughtiness, iconoclasm and nihilism betoken nothing but desirable moralistic freethinking.
If Barak doesn't put his money where his mouth is, it's because he fears flying in the face of his own fashionable flock - which includes Ehud Olmert, some of whose brood also picked the privileged path of the progeny of fellow-preeminent ones.