One of the main lessons from the current crisis with the ultra-Orthodox community is the need for members of the sector to begin to share the burden of life in Israel.
This includes not only abiding by the government-imposed coronavirus regulations like keeping schools shut, social distancing, closing businesses and reporting infections, but also doing a form of military or national service.
For too long, the state has allowed this one sector among the Jewish population to get away without carrying the national burden. While secular and national-religious youth are all expected to give two or three years of their lives to the IDF, haredi youth do not. Instead, they believe that their yeshiva study is just as important.
We do not detract from the value of studying Torah. It is valuable and important. But studying in yeshiva does not exempt someone from contributing to society. The rocks thrown by haredi youth at policemen and journalists this week, as well as the bus that was burned to a crisp in Bnei Brak, show that stamina needed to serve in combat units is not what these youth are lacking.
This week the state will respond to a petition before the High Court of Justice about the need to legislate a new haredi draft bill. On Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that the Defense Ministry will not ask the court for another extension, and will instead demand of the coalition to approve a new draft bill in the cabinet.
According to Gantz, the answer to Israel’s ongoing political and social crisis is to formulate a bill that includes the ultra-Orthodox as well as the Arab communities.
“In Israel of 2021, more than 50% of the youth are not joining the army,” Gantz said last week during a news conference at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv. “We must be united in our service… Israeli society is changing its face, the IDF has turned from the people’s army to half the people’s army. Combat soldiers become freierim [suckers].”
According to Gantz’s plan, a new directorate will be formed in the Defense Ministry to oversee the draft mechanism. Within this new system, youngsters will be able to choose whether to join the army or an alternative civil service apparatus.
“This way, for example, haredim [the ultra-Orthodox] could join charity organizations – a highly respected cause among their communities – and also learn a profession in the emergency, health and welfare organizations,” Gantz said. “Arab citizens could give back to the community, develop education organizations within it, and help combat crime.
“Each and every one will give two years for the sake of unity; everyone will serve two years for the sake of our society,” he added.
There is little doubt that Blue and White’s low polling numbers ahead of the March 23 election played a role in Gantz’s announcement. Nevertheless, it does not take away from its legitimacy.
For too long, the haredi sector has gotten away without sharing the burden of national service in Israel. That members of the community continue to ignore government rules about the coronavirus shows that haredim believe that they live in something of an autonomy in Israel.
This has to change, and one of the ways to do that is to create equality. Not just when it comes to coronavirus rules, but also when it comes to national service. Equality needs to be felt across the country: everywhere, and regarding everyone and everything.
As expected, the United Torah Judaism party attacked the plan, calling Gantz a pathological liar and accusing him of breaking a promise to pass the original conscription bill.
“Instead of keeping his promise, he is coming up with delusional plans to win a few votes and cross the electoral threshold,’’ MK Moshe Gafni said.
Politics aside, now is the time for Israel to make order of a historical travesty.
Will it happen? Highly unlikely. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not take action against haredim on the eve of a fateful election that could determine his political future. He will continue to cave to their demands, and as a result, Israel will continue to suffer.