Sea of Haredim 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This week, I was gratified to hear IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz call for more
ultra-Orthodox Jews to enlist in the army and say that he seeks “equality of
service” among all Israeli citizens. In recent months many politicians have
expressed sound-bites in the hope of gaining some attention for themselves on
the back of this pressing issue.
However, no party has held the banner of
equality of service and contribution to our society more consistently or for
longer than Yisrael Beytenu.
Since its foundation, during its existence
first as a small party and today when it is the third largest, Yisrael Beytenu
has continually pushed the concept of military conscription or national service
for all Israelis, regardless of gender, religion or background.
year as we approach Israel’s Remembrance Day we hear and remember incredible
stories of the heroism and dedication of our troops who fell in the line of
service. As the former chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans’ Organization, I
know very well the terrible price many have paid to defend our country and its
Members of the IDF Disabled Veterans’ Organization are extremely
dedicated and passionate Zionists who I know will continue sending their
children into the military despite the heavy price they themselves paid in the
service of the Jewish state. Their sacrifice is great, yet they continue to give
of themselves for the defense of the homeland.
It is time to send a clear
message that the blood of each and every Israeli is as red as the
Enough of the rhetoric, it is high time that we moved beyond words
and enacted a law of equal service for all Israelis. Yisrael Beytenu was the
first party to stand against the Tal Law, and we are the first party to make a
concrete suggestion in its stead.
We propose that every Israeli must
either enlist in the IDF or complete national service. There are no more
excuses. No sector of our society is without its poor, ill or needy. If
an Arab or ultra- Orthodox Israeli can not undergo military service for
ideological reasons, they can at least serve their own community in their
cities, villages or neighborhoods.
A very small and limited number,
around a thousand, of the brightest and best yeshiva students will receive
exemption from service as they will contribute to our society through their
learning and future service as rabbis and Jewish leaders. Equally, the
same number of students at institutions of higher education will also receive
exemption from service if their studies are considered valuable to our
It is so simple, yet apparently so difficult to implement. We
have become used to hearing vague promises of forming endless committees without
a firm mandate to look into possible alternatives to the Tal Law. However, the
solution is extremely straightforward and as the saying goes, “where there is a
will, there is a way.”
Many claim that they are against the Tal Law or
inequality of service, but these statements ring hollow when they are made by
those who have the power to overturn this incongruent situation.
not merely a matter of equality; it is also about the future of our
country. If we look back to the early years of the state, the vast
majority served the country and contributed to our society. A situation has been
allowed to fester for decades which has changed these proportions
In only a few short years the number of those who serve
will become a minority; the national burden will be laid on a shrinking number
of Israelis. This will become an untenable situation and one which we can not
afford to leave to our children.
This country is facing many challenges
in our volatile region. There are many who feel that the days of an extended
standing army are over. However, as a Member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and
Defense Committee I know that they are incorrect.
Unfortunately, as we
all too regularly witness, a conflagration can occur on any one or more of our
borders at any time. Our national resources are stretched and those who
contribute the best years of their life should feel that their contemporaries of
all backgrounds are sharing the national burden.
Moreover, our government
should incentivize service, by giving priority of benefits to those who
contribute. While rights are sacrosanct, benefits are not, and they should be
earned. That is why Yisrael Beytenu is fighting hard to ensure that benefits
like priority housing and free education should be given to the shrinking number
of those who fully contribute to the economy and defense of our
We would also like to break the cycle of poverty specifically
among those sectors where non-service appears to correlate to economic
constraints. Military or national service also provides skills and a profession
that will allow for greater proficiency in the job market.
burden will also provide Israelis across the spectrum with a much-needed feeling
of solidarity and loyalty to the national cause. As US President John F. Kennedy
famously said at his inauguration, “Ask not what your country can do for you –
ask what you can do for your country.”
Commensurate contribution by all
will assist in the equalization of our society and help the Jewish state face
its external challenges.
It is time for the government to put the nation
before narrow sectoral interests and equalize the national burden among all
Israelis.The writer is a Yisrael Beytenu MK and former chairman of the
IDF Disabled Veterans’ Organization and chairman of the IDF’s Disabled Fund.