Time to equalize the national burden

No party has held the banner of equality of service more consistently or for longer than Yisrael Beytenu.

Sea of Haredim 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Sea of Haredim 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This week, I was gratified to hear IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz call for more ultra-Orthodox Jews to enlist in the army and say that he seeks “equality of service” among all Israeli citizens. In recent months many politicians have expressed sound-bites in the hope of gaining some attention for themselves on the back of this pressing issue.
However, no party has held the banner of equality of service and contribution to our society more consistently or for longer than Yisrael Beytenu.
Since its foundation, during its existence first as a small party and today when it is the third largest, Yisrael Beytenu has continually pushed the concept of military conscription or national service for all Israelis, regardless of gender, religion or background.
Every year as we approach Israel’s Remembrance Day we hear and remember incredible stories of the heroism and dedication of our troops who fell in the line of service. As the former chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans’ Organization, I know very well the terrible price many have paid to defend our country and its people.
Members of the IDF Disabled Veterans’ Organization are extremely dedicated and passionate Zionists who I know will continue sending their children into the military despite the heavy price they themselves paid in the service of the Jewish state. Their sacrifice is great, yet they continue to give of themselves for the defense of the homeland.
It is time to send a clear message that the blood of each and every Israeli is as red as the next.
Enough of the rhetoric, it is high time that we moved beyond words and enacted a law of equal service for all Israelis. Yisrael Beytenu was the first party to stand against the Tal Law, and we are the first party to make a concrete suggestion in its stead.
We propose that every Israeli must either enlist in the IDF or complete national service. There are no more excuses. No sector of our society is without its poor, ill or needy. If an Arab or ultra- Orthodox Israeli can not undergo military service for ideological reasons, they can at least serve their own community in their cities, villages or neighborhoods.
A very small and limited number, around a thousand, of the brightest and best yeshiva students will receive exemption from service as they will contribute to our society through their learning and future service as rabbis and Jewish leaders. Equally, the same number of students at institutions of higher education will also receive exemption from service if their studies are considered valuable to our society.
It is so simple, yet apparently so difficult to implement. We have become used to hearing vague promises of forming endless committees without a firm mandate to look into possible alternatives to the Tal Law. However, the solution is extremely straightforward and as the saying goes, “where there is a will, there is a way.”
Many claim that they are against the Tal Law or inequality of service, but these statements ring hollow when they are made by those who have the power to overturn this incongruent situation.
This is not merely a matter of equality; it is also about the future of our country. If we look back to the early years of the state, the vast majority served the country and contributed to our society. A situation has been allowed to fester for decades which has changed these proportions dramatically.
In only a few short years the number of those who serve will become a minority; the national burden will be laid on a shrinking number of Israelis. This will become an untenable situation and one which we can not afford to leave to our children.
This country is facing many challenges in our volatile region. There are many who feel that the days of an extended standing army are over. However, as a Member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee I know that they are incorrect.
Unfortunately, as we all too regularly witness, a conflagration can occur on any one or more of our borders at any time. Our national resources are stretched and those who contribute the best years of their life should feel that their contemporaries of all backgrounds are sharing the national burden.
Moreover, our government should incentivize service, by giving priority of benefits to those who contribute. While rights are sacrosanct, benefits are not, and they should be earned. That is why Yisrael Beytenu is fighting hard to ensure that benefits like priority housing and free education should be given to the shrinking number of those who fully contribute to the economy and defense of our nation.
We would also like to break the cycle of poverty specifically among those sectors where non-service appears to correlate to economic constraints. Military or national service also provides skills and a profession that will allow for greater proficiency in the job market.
Sharing the burden will also provide Israelis across the spectrum with a much-needed feeling of solidarity and loyalty to the national cause. As US President John F. Kennedy famously said at his inauguration, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
Commensurate contribution by all will assist in the equalization of our society and help the Jewish state face its external challenges.
It is time for the government to put the nation before narrow sectoral interests and equalize the national burden among all Israelis.
The writer is a Yisrael Beytenu MK and former chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans’ Organization and chairman of the IDF’s Disabled Fund.