Haredi IDF soldiers Tal Law 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be walking into two political minefields
at the same time when he attempts to make military or alternative public service
mandatory for ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jews. The same applies to his intention to
require that Israeli Arabs be drafted as well.
Passive resistance can be
expected to come from the haredim who argue that their full-time study of
Judaism’s sacred texts bolsters Israel’s national defense. On the other hand,
Israel’s Arabs undoubtedly will accept the call to duty, but their entry em
masse (they have hitherto been allowed to volunteer individually) may pose
The trigger for these reforms was the widespread
demand by the men and women who are called up for three or two years,
respectively, of active service and return annually for up to a month in the
reserves. They believe that these burdens should be shared by all.
first glance, it may seem like an easy task for a prime minister whose coalition
government controls 94 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, but a closer look indicates
that there will be opposition from within rather than from without.
will come from the component ultra-Orthodox parties.
They refuse to
participate in the committee headed by MK Yohanan Plesner which has been
assigned to replacing the controversial “Tal Law” that applies to military
It can come up with new legislation or propose amendments
that will ban the exceptions currently given to haredim.
haredim have warned that they will not obey draft notices even if their refusal
results in arrest and jail. It is doubtful that Netanyahu relishes the prospect
of such severe police action against ultra- Orthodox Jews. And the possibility
or the likelihood of mass demonstrations by young men whose uniform black and
white attire and religiously dictated grooming (beards and earlocks) clearly
identify them as ultra- Orthodox Jews would not make the prime minister look
On the other hand, he cannot perpetuate the situation in
which thousands of able-bodied young men avoid service in the armed forces while
secularist Jewish citizens and non-haredi though devoutly religious Jews risk
their lives for their country. It will take some very shrewd wheeling and
dealing on Netanyahu’s part to find a solution acceptable to both
The impending compulsory conscription of Israeli Arabs also is
fraught with problems.
Their exemption, which was initiated by prime
minister Ben-Gurion (who also held the post of defense minister), was based (by
him) on moral considerations. He thought it would be wrong to compel Israeli
Arabs to bear arms against their brethren in the neighboring Arab
However, during the intervening years it has become evident that
omission from the IDF’s ranks virtually condemned them to second-class
citizenship. It also imposed economic handicaps. This was because well-paid jobs
in the defense industries are contingent upon military service.
implied that the Israeli Arabs’ loyalty to the State of Israel was
If there was any justification for such a sweeping and seemingly
prejudicial attitude 64 years ago it certainly is not acceptable today. Israel’s
Arabs, who constitute more than 20 percent of the country’s population attend
all of its universities as well as the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology
in Haifa and constitute a significant component of the national economy.
Besides, other non- Jewish citizens are called up and wear the uniforms of the
IDF or the Border Police. These include the Druse and Circassians. A substantial
percentage of the Beduin Arabs volunteer. The latter have distinguished
themselves in all kinds of combat situations.
The greatest value inherent
in the conscription of Israeli Arabs is the impetus it would give to their total
and genuine integration into the body politic. Anyone who contends that this is
not what they really want or that this proposed reform is premature if only
because the Israeli Arabs would prefer to live in the projected Palestinian
state rather than in the State of Israel is wrong. This notion has been
disproved repeatedly in recent years.
Dramatic proof was demonstrated by
the residents of Umm el-Fahm and other towns in the Wadi Ara region.
Israeli negotiators raised the possibility that their residences might be
transferred to the Palestinian side of the 1949 armistice line they not only
were indignant, but also deeply insulted. Their leaders declared openly that
Israel was their country and that they did not want to be separated from it for
Undoubtedly, it will take a great deal of political skill for
Netanyahu and his coalition colleagues to work out a viable substitute for or
revision of the unpopular Tal Law.
However, they have no choice and the
time at their disposal is severely limited.
The time to act is at hand
and the sooner the better.The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent.