INSIDE OUT: More to share than just the burden

Exemption from service by class is morally repugnant, and Yair Lapid is right to demand that it end.

Yair Lapid 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yair Lapid 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid has come under fire from politicians and pundits because of his demand that any government he joins should prioritize an “equal sharing of the burden” – a political catchphrase that regrettably loses much of its pithy punch in translation. Lapid’s goal is to end the situation in which young haredi men are exempted by default from military service and, as a result of the terms of that exemption, prevented from joining the workforce for many years thereafter.
In an attempt to delegitimize his position, Lapid has come under unfair ad hominem attacks about the nature of his own military service as a journalist in Bamahane. His detractors assert that Lapid is hardly in a position to demand an equal sharing of the burden, since the burden he personally bore as a soldier was relatively light in comparison to that of an infantryman in the Golani Brigade, for example. That line of argument is, of course, thoroughly specious since it has absolutely no bearing on Lapid’s opposition to the blanket exemption from any form of service that is given to all members of an entire sector simply by virtue their membership in that sector.
It goes without saying that not all military service is equally grueling or demanding, and many non-haredi Israelis dodge military service altogether. But one would have to be willfully blind to the principle in question to claim that Lapid’s demand that the haredim be subject to the draft like all other Jewish Israelis is a populist rant simply because not all military service is equal. The placement (or not) within the military machine of individual non-haredi Israelis is a reflection of their personal abilities, disposition and choices, and does not stem automatically from their class affiliation, as in the case of young haredi men.
Exemption from service by class is morally repugnant, and Lapid is right to demand that it end.
Despite the absence of any evidence, Lapid has also been accused of being motivated by “hatred” for haredim. Of course, this ignores the fact that it is the haredim, as individuals, who stand to gain the most by ending their automatic exemption from military service and their subsequent exclusion from the workforce. In the current situation, many haredim are forced to lead a life of privation if not downright poverty because of the constraints that keep them unemployed. They also earn the contempt of many non-haredi Israelis, self-declared “suckers” who complain about being forced to carry the haredi “shirkers” and “freeloaders” on their backs.
Ending the advantage the haredim derive from their membership in a privileged class – exemption from the draft – will simultaneously mitigate the disadvantage that stems from membership in the same class – unemployment, privation and derision by affiliation. No less importantly, the Israeli economy will benefit from increased tax revenues and growth, coupled with significantly lower welfare payments. After all, the haredim, as a group, will no longer need the various stipends and other benefits they receive for their very sustenance once they have the ability to be gainfully employed.
THE HAREDIM, ultimately, stand to share much more than the burden if the change Lapid has demanded is carried out. They also stand to share the wealth.
While the changes Lapid has proposed would benefit all Israelis, first and foremost the haredim themselves, its flaw is the narrowness of its scope.
There is a second group of Israelis who are exempted by dint of their membership in that group from military service and who also suffer from high unemployment, privation and discrimination, albeit for very different reasons. That group is the Arab citizens of Israel.
While military service for the Arab citizens of Israel might not be a realistic solution for a plethora of reasons, civilian service for young Arab men and women is. Moreover, as in the case of the haredim, allowing the Arab citizens to help shoulder the burden of service must go hand in hand with increased integration of the Arab citizens into the workforce.
According to a recent study by the Taub Center, unemployment rates among Arab Israelis are far higher than previously thought, particularly among women. Some 30 percent of all unemployed Israelis are Arabs, and roughly 40 percent of Arab Israelis with higher education degrees are unable to find work in their field of expertise.
Those experiences, which can be averted at least partially with the help of government programs, naturally exacerbate the sense of disgruntlement over perceived discrimination.
The outgoing government launched a campaign last June designed to promote the employment of Arabs in the public and private sector, and should be commended for doing so. As in the case of the haredi sector, increased employment among Arab Israelis will not only serve to reduce the welfare burden shouldered by the state but will also increase tax revenues. More importantly, increased Arab employment would also go a long way to reducing the sense shared by many Arab Israelis that they suffer from discrimination.
If the next government of Israel succeeds in allowing these two sectors of Israeli society to share the burdens and the benefits of citizenship, Israel will be a better country as a result. Not only for the self-declared “suckers” who currently do share the burden (and the wealth), but for the members of the sectors that do not.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.