Memo to the editors of the Jerusalem Post: Jewish statehood is about returning sovereignty to Jewish hands. Sovereignty is about power. States that do not exercise power – whether aimed at repelling outside enemies or upholding basic values and maintaining order at home – do not survive.
This was my response to the February 23 Post editorial (Change without coercion, http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Editorials/Article.aspx?id=259182), which discussed how Israel’s government should respond to the overturning of the Tal Law. I should make clear that I share the editorial’s conclusion; as I wrote immediately prior to the court decision, I do not believe that drafting haredim into the Israel Defense Forces is a good idea now.
But I was stunned by the naïve, starry-eyed reasoning of the editors. After noting all the problems that arise from the current situation, the editorial proclaimed that “integration (of haredim) is an evolutionary process that can be nurtured, even encouraged, but that cannot be forced.”
Nonsense. It can be forced, and in some ways it must be forced. The State of Israel forces people to do many things they do not want to do. Voluntary action is desirable, but Israel, like every democratic state, is always striking a balance between coercing and convincing. At this moment, even without a draft, there must be more of the former and less of the latter.
In the first place, the editors’ claim that the haredi community is undergoing dramatic, rapid change that will soon lead to significant integration is false. There is change and it is welcome, but it is also exceedingly slow and very modest. There are 60,000 haredi men of draft ago who avoid military service, and only 2800 who are now in the IDF. At this rate, generations will pass before the haredim begin to shoulder their fair share of responsibility for the welfare of the Jewish state.
Secondly, we can identify areas where coercive action, while painful, will work. Education is the best example; absent education, haredi men and women will not find their way to the army and the work force. Yet, while the editorial mentions haredi progress in the educational realm, virtually all haredi schools do not teach basic skills or secular subjects of any kind. The government of Israel can, and must, obligate every school in Israel to teach the core curriculum; and this will require the repeal of the Nahari law, which forces local authorities to fund haredi schools in which the core curriculum is not studied.
This seemingly modest step – government action to compel curriculum change in the haredi system of independent (but government supported) schools – will only happen if a tough-minded Israeli government is prepared to do what responsible governments do: coerce a number of its unwilling citizens to take action that is essential for the national interest. If the Post will not endorse such a step, it should be ashamed of itself. So too should the parties of the nationalist right, which tend to want an assertive government in all areas but this one. (And Avigdor Lieberman, alas, talks a good game on these issues but has yet to deliver anything of substance. )
It should be noted that the current situation did not come about through a slow, natural process; it was fostered by specific government action in the 1970s that led to a huge jump in the number of haredi men avoiding the draft. Government action now can reverse that trend.
There are many, many Orthodox citizens of Israel who scrupulously observe the tradition while remaining a part of Israeli society and fulfilling their obligations as citizens. If Israel’s leaders will make use of state power in a responsible (and yes, a coercive) way, they can push the haredim to follow their example. And the Jerusalem Post should support this.