Protect our soldiers

Consensus on Peri C'tee proposal for ultra-Orthodox, Arab conscription faces numerous hurdles.

May 26, 2013 23:28
3 minute read.
Soldiers [illustrative]

Soldiers [illustrative] 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

The ultra-Orthodox, the Arab population and other groups in Israeli society will perform either military or national service in increasingly larger numbers in coming years, if a special ministerial committee’s recommendations are implemented.

Numerous hurdles must be overcome before members of the Peri Committee, headed by Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), reach a consensus.

Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beytenu ministers are insisting that the Arab population, not just the haredim, be obligated to serve. Some ministers oppose using criminal sanctions against objectors; others are fighting a proposed extension of the military service performed by religious- Zionist soldiers in the hesder program.

Even if the ministers manage to overcome their differences and the legislation is finally passed, implementation will be no easy matter. The ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities both have strong and vocal opponents to the draft.

Regardless of the final version of the legislation, however, it is imperative that those among the haredi and Arab populations who do choose to serve their country receive the full backing – and protection – of the State of Israel.

In recent months, as the public debate over “sharing the burden” has heated up, there has been a worrying rise in incitement, intimidation and, sometimes, violence against those in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations who choose to enlist in the IDF.

Last October, the Christian community in Nazareth, in cooperation with the Defense Ministry, organized a conference that provided information on enlisting in the army. Several priests who support Christian youth interested in joining the IDF were in attendance as were dozens of Christian teenagers.

Video footage and pictures showing hundreds of Arabspeaking Christians participating in the conference with Israeli flags in the background sparked intense outrage in Nazareth. The Arab press launched a campaign bashing the participants; one priest who participated was banned from his church by leaders of the Christian community in the city; another had the tires of his car punctured and a blood-soaked rag left on his doorstep.

The Communist Movement in Nazareth, one of the strongest political parties in the town, has spearheaded the campaign. Hadash MKs Muhammad Barakei and Hanna Swaid participated in an anti-draft protest. Antidraft activists have forced high school students to sign a petition declaring their opposition to the draft. Christians who serve in the IDF dare not return home in uniform for fear they will be attacked.

A similar “reign of terror” atmosphere dominates many haredi neighborhoods. “Yossi,” a resident of El Ad, told Army Radio on Sunday that after he joined the air force at the age of 30, his children were ostracized at school. He refrained from returning home in uniform because he felt uncomfortable. Speaking to Radio Kol Hai recently, Rabbi Mordechai Bloi, a veteran activist and member of the Guardians of Sanctity and Education (Mishmeret Hakodesh Vehahinuch), an organization that enforces what it sees as normative haredi behavior, likened the IDF uniform to the work clothes of a garbage collector.

“Do they come to the synagogue with that terrible smell? People should feel embarrassed of wearing an IDF uniform.” Though Bloi rejected violence, he advised haredi men not to wear their uniforms in haredi neighborhoods.

The dynamic of closed, undemocratic societies, whether Arab or haredi, is such that vocal extremists, who might only represent a minority, dominate the discourse of religious and political extremism while proponents of moderation are perceived as weak. Dissent requires courage and a readiness for self-sacrifice.

The State of Israel and its law enforcers have an obligation to protect those who choose to enlist in the IDF.

Too often, clashes over the issue of military service are perceived by the police as just another “internal matter” that is none of their business. This non-interventionist approach welcomes pockets of lawlessness and the free reign of the bullies.

Politicians received a mandate from voters to promote a more equal sharing of the burden of military service.

But if we truly want to bring about a situation in which more haredim and non-Jews enlist, we must ensure that those who do opt to serve are protected from extremists.

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