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