Inspire our youth

Parents, entertainers and business leaders are responsible for a climate that fosters non-enlistment.

idf recruits bakum 248 88 (photo credit: IDF [file])
idf recruits bakum 248 88
(photo credit: IDF [file])
The IDF released an unprecedented figure this week: 25 percent of young men eligible to be drafted in August will be exempted from military service. Taking into account those who leave the military during their service, a total of about 38% of each draft-age cohort do not complete army service. The IDF notes that the impressive percentage who choose combat units, which rose significantly during and after the Second Lebanon War, has dropped slightly since, but remains at 67%, which is higher than in 2005. According to the IDF, 11 out of the 25% not enlisting were yeshiva students (up 1% from last year), 7% were exempt for health reasons (including 5% on mental health grounds), 4% were abroad and 3% had a criminal record. So the main increase in non-enlistment seemed to be a by-product of the growth of haredim as a proportion of the general army-age population. For some, this means the Tal Law, which allows haredim to break out of the choice between army and yeshiva and join the work force, is a travesty. Yet others see the Tal Law as a step in the right direction, since it will increase the economic integration of the haredim into Israeli society, and could well lead to other forms of increased involvement, such as national and even army service. In any case, and despite the success of the Nahal Haredi units, it should be obvious that the negative trends in enlistment numbers cannot be addressed only by increasing haredi enlistment. Nor is the unfairness of the division of the defense burden - though it might be a convenient excuse for non-haredim to say, "Why should I serve if they don't" - really the heart of the matter. Rather, the most worrisome trend that needs to be addressed was touched on by senior IDF officials reacting to the new figures. "Israeli society has to condemn draft dodgers," said one. "This is not just a military matter, but a social issue too. Those who do not shoulder their share of the burden have to be made to feel ashamed again." Among our elites, avoiding enlistment has become increasingly acceptable. While in some high schools, almost all of the best and the brightest aim to join elite combat units, in others it is common for those within the same elite cohorts to seek exemptions through connections, often on grounds of "mental problems." The youth themselves should not bear the principal blame for this. It is their parents, starting with many cabinet ministers, business leaders, entertainers and other prominent figures, who are responsible for an educational and domestic climate that fosters non-enlistment. The generation that raised those now reaching draft age is once removed from the generation that founded the state. It is a generation that fought in wars and was inculcated in values such as building and knowledge of the land, but is also a generation that, understandably, strove for "normalcy" and worked to give their children a better life. The result is generations of parents and children for whom scoring well in "practical" subjects is more important than learning history, and for whom traditions - such as a challenging hike on an annual school trip - are increasingly passe. The summary of the interim Winograd Report stated that the IDF was "not ready" for the war in Lebanon because "some of the political and military elites have reached the conclusion that Israel is beyond the era of wars." Given this assumption, the IDF felt it "did not need to prepare for a real war," nor was there an "urgent need ... to consider how to mobilize and combine all its resources and sources of strength - political, economic, social, military, spiritual, cultural, and scientific - to address the totality of the challenges it faces." The committee's concluding hope was that its report would "lead toward a renewed process in which Israeli society, and its political and spiritual leaders will ... explore Israel's long-term aspirations and ways to advance them." It has been said in the American context that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." Our own neighborhood is even less forgiving, so that we do not have the luxury of pursuing a "normalcy" that does not include knowledge of our history, love of our land, and inculcation of the meaning and value of a Jewish state. If we fail to do this, we are not only endangering our nation's future, but depriving the younger generation of an important element of the meaning that they naturally seek, and would gladly foster and interpret in new ways if those responsible for their education, at home and in school, inspired them and gave them the chance.