Incentives to ensure equality

Israel should pair benefits with national service requirements and then let citizens decide.

Haredi and secular in Mea Shearim 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi and secular in Mea Shearim 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Supreme Court's decision to abrogate the Tal Law, which put an end to the favoritism the Ultra-Orthodox community enjoyed, has thrown the country into political chaos and forced new elections within six months. There is also the threat of last summer's mass protests returning, this time in favor of a more equitable distribution of the burden of national service. Some have spoken out against the ability of Ultra-Orthodox and Arabs to enjoy their rights of citizenship, with the attending benefits, without lifting a finger in its defense. This perceived unfairness, together with Iran, will likely become the principal national issues during the forthcoming election campaign.
Many variations of a new universal national service have been thrown into this raging debate, while the primary concerned parties, the Ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs, have understandably expressed opposition to any change in their privileged status. They claim that they are open to public debate on their national duties, just not their national rights and benefits, which they say should stand beyond argument since one is not conditioned by the other.
Thus, the government must implement a new two-track law of citizenship which does not discriminate against any creed or national affiliation and provides clear incentives for fulfilling national duties. It would deter others from embarking on an alternative track, but the ultimate decision would remain at the discretion of each individual, without coercion.
Citizens who opt for the first track would be encouraged to send  their children to national schools  which would be taught in the national language and promote respect for the national flag, anthem and holidays, and values of Israeli society. When students come of age, they would engage in national service (military or otherwise). Only after serving and swearing allegiance to the state would they acquire Israeli citizenship and gain access to benefits like social security, health and education and the right to work in all walks of industry, technology, and services without restriction. They would also be entitled to an Israeli passport protection and all the benefits towed a full-fledged national.
Those who chose the alternative track could study and educate their children at their whim, but also at their own expense. They would not be obliged to render any national service, but they would also not be entitled to any of its benefits, like social security, health and welfare services, and most importantly, they would not gain Israeli citizenship or an Israeli passport. As a result, they would continue to cut themselves off from society and engage in unpatriotic activities such as desecrating the Israeli flag, commemorating rather than celebrating Independence Day, or expressing disrespect for Holocaust symbols. Conversely the state would preserve their rights to residency, protection and work but would not provide representation because of their status as foreign aliens. This is, of course, provided that they respect the law.
By imposing universal non-discriminatory law, the great asset that will have been gained is the ability for each individual to decide their own mode of life and fate. Instead of the state having to assess an individual's intentions or national loyalty, let each person state his decisions by electing one track over the other.
In so doing, it is reasonable to anticipate the emergence of an Israeli citizenship which allows those who choose it to live a normal national life of give and take. Those who choose the opposite track and maintain a recalcitrant attitude towards the state would either be tempted to change or to choose another country in which find it easier to realize their identity.
The writer is a professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem  and a member of the steering committee of the Ariel Center for Policy Research.