Last week, more than 1,000 haredi (ultra-Orthodox) protesters from the extremist Jerusalem Faction of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach’s Lithuanian community blocked traffic in the capital and across the country as part of a “day of rage,” declared to protest the arrest of two draft-dodging yeshiva students.
Currently, any full-time yeshiva student who approaches the army recruitment office and claims that “Torah is my trade” automatically receives an exemption from service. But you have to ask, and that apparently was too much of a Zionist act for these students.
By the end of the week, 120 haredi protesters had been arrested.
The usual punishment: a night in jail.
That hardly seems enough to deter the next day of rage, not to mention the even larger protests that are surely coming if the government is forced to enact a law, as the High Court of Justice is demanding, that significantly scales back on army exemptions for ultra-Orthodox 18-year-olds.
The time has come for a harsher response.
“Enough is enough,” wrote former Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman in The Jerusalem Post last week. Lipman wants the prison terms for protesters to be upped from a night’s incarceration to “a minimum of six months. And their leaders – yes, including rabbis – must be brought in as well.”
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But prison time won’t do it. An AFP photographer captured a picture of one haredi man holding a large sign reading “Orthodox Jews will proudly go to jail rather than join the Zionist army.” According to another news report, protesters chanted “We would rather die than be drafted.”
What are these yeshiva students, who refuse to even register for their controversial army exemptions, and the protesters who block the highways to support their actions, actually saying? That they’re not really full citizens in the Jewish state.
That they want all the benefits of living here but they refuse to give back what their secular counterparts for the most part have no choice about.
That makes them essentially tourists in the country. So let’s treat them that way.
A visitor on a tourist visa doesn’t have to serve in the army. But he or she also doesn’t get all the perks of citizenship.
What if that were the case for draft-dodging yeshiva students? I’m not talking about every member of the haredi community, of course; just those who break the law. Would their backers continue to burn trash and block roads so vehemently if their day-to-day benefits were restricted? What might this involve? Here are a few suggestions.
Tourists can’t get an Israeli driver’s license. The same should be the case for draft dodgers. In one of the most salient ironies of the current days of rage, the two yeshiva students who were arrested weren’t dragged out of their beds early in the morning. No, they were caught driving recklessly while on vacation in the Dead Sea region. Take away that driver’s license and full-time yeshiva learning might become a whole lot less desirable.
Tourists can only stay here for a certain period of time. I’m not proposing we should start deporting draft-dodging yeshiva students and their enablers. But like tourists, they would have to renew their “visas” every few months. That’s not a terrible punishment, but it’s a hassle. Downside: It’s also extra work for the clerks at the Interior Ministry. But it would send a message loud and clear.
How about the bank? Tourists can find it very difficult to open an account at a local branch. Let’s see how well our draft dodgers enjoy functioning on an entirely cash basis.
Tourists of course aren’t entitled to a range of financial benefits – welfare, child support, unemployment, disability insurance.
So that gets taken off the table, too.
Tourists are not allowed to hold down a job without an official work permit. It’s not a deal breaker – if a company wants you, you’ll get the permission, but, like the visa renewal, it’s an extra hassle. Is avoiding the army recruitment office worth it? (And, yes, I know this particular proposal goes against the long-term interest of integrating yeshiva students into the economy, so I’m willing to give up on this one.)
Finally, health care. Tourists can certainly get coverage through the health funds system, but they have to pay extra. They don’t get insured automatically through the same 5% deduction from their paychecks (or welfare or unemployment payments) that the rest of us do. Should the same be applied to draft dodgers?
This last point might not go over so well, either. I’m proud of our universal health coverage and I don’t want people getting sick or dying because we limited their options. But there’s a very simple solution here: obey the law and serve your country.
Does any of what I’m proposing have a chance of passing the Knesset? Not at all. At least not when our coalition system of government grants the haredi parties power to hold the prime minister hostage.
But someday there may be a new coalition with a new prime minister. If we ever want the situation to change, we need to mix things up. The haredim are not the only ones who are feeling rage right now.
The writer’s new book, TOTALED: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com
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