Fairness and the draft

Deterrent value of possible punishment cannot be underestimated, might facilitate conscription of greater numbers of eligible haredim.

Haredi anti-Tal Law protest no-no-no 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi anti-Tal Law protest no-no-no 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Conscripting a few thousand more yeshiva students each year will not appreciably shore up our national defenses. Denying small stipends to nonworking fathers who devote themselves exclusively to religious studies will not shore up our economy. Ostensibly, there is ample rationale for leaving things as they are.
But the status quo is not shaky only because of High Court focus on both these issues, but because in both instances the searing sense of inequity among those who do pull their weight in our society is exacerbated.
What matters here is not necessarily what we tangibly gain from thwarting haredi draft-dodging and from not shelling out taxpayer money.
The monthly allotment of NIS 1,000 granted to married yeshiva students – fathers to three or more children, who do not work but rather study full-time – depletes our collective coffers by roughly NIS 135 million annually.
The Supreme Court already nixed the allotments two years ago, but they were promptly reintroduced under the guise of “an incentive to employment.”
Against the background of the entire state budget they are no enormous outlay. But again, appearances count.
The notion that most of us work but some do not and, worse yet, that the working majority must carry the nonearners on their backs undermines morale. Restoring a basic sense of fairness is paramount because the majority of citizens who toil and who perform their military service feel like suckers.
This is nothing to scoff at because such perceptions can rip apart our social fabric, and that would hurt both our national defense and our economy, upon which we all – haredim included – depend.
In its response to a High Court petition ahead of a hearing Thursday, the Defense Ministry pledged to only begin drafting ultra-Orthodox male adolescents who reach the age of military service in summer 2013. Moreover, the draft quotas will rise incrementally over the coming years. The plan is to conscript 8,000 young haredi men more each year until, by 2015, all eligible ablebodied candidates for service are drafted. An exception may be made only for a limited number of exceptionally outstanding scholars.
Prima facie, officialdom did, as the petitioners charge, violate the law by not having drafted all haredi students from the minute the “Tal Law” expired last August. That legislation perversely provided an official stamp of approval for what turned out to have been an elaborate charade. It furthered and preserved the link between enrollment in a yeshiva and exemption from military service.
The apparent link grated against that crucial unwritten contract whereby all members of society assume they are treated impartially and are asked to contribute to the public good to the same degree as others do. This is a basic ingredient of the glue that binds us together.
Our national cohesion can only benefit when a dubious arrangement such as the Tal Law disappears from our agenda. Our greatest fear, though, should not be that things will not radically change overnight regarding the draft. A more cogent concern should be that in the end even gradually increased haredi service will fail to materialize.
What needs to be prevented is yet another “creative formula” that will leave the inequity undented. Gradually increasing the numbers of conscripted ultra-orthodox youths is likely the best available option, which could also be imposed at random. A net could be cast unpredictably and whoever is caught in it must serve or face personal consequences.
The deterrent value of possible punishment cannot be underestimated and might facilitate the conscription of greater numbers of eligible haredim.
From this point on it will be up to the electorate to judge how each government that it puts into office uses the tools it already possesses. Our public is more critical and more mindful of the issue than ever before.
Therefore, voters are more likely to scrutinize the record of every defense minister and every coalition on the question of conscription. Those who fail to deliver improvement may well risk voter backlash. The fear of the voter can be a potent incentive to progress.
We have power and can do more than gripe.