Let’s have a debate about citizenship

Every Israeli citizen should be treated the same; just as every holder of an Israeli blue ID card receives the same rights and benefits.

Teudat Zehut, Israeli ID card 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Teudat Zehut, Israeli ID card 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A couple of months ago an unprecedented vote occurred in Israel’s legislature. For the first time in 64 years, a law was placed before the Knesset plenum to make all Israelis, regardless of background, equal in terms of their service and contribution to the state and Israeli society.
There was a lot of hope that this historic bill would pass by a significant majority, as polls indicated that the overwhelming majority of the public and all the leaders of all the major parties, according to their repeated statements, were extremely supportive of such an agenda. However, only the 15 Yisrael Beytenu MKs and a handful of others raised their hand in support at the moment of truth.
After 64 years, this was a historic decision not only because it would have changed a long-standing policy which Israel’s Supreme Court deemed discriminatory and unconstitutional, but also because we might not have too many more chances to rectify the current broken system.
According to all indications, when the children who just entered first grade this year graduate from high school, the majority will not embark on military or national service. This means that for those of us whose children and grand-children will graduate in 12 years and will serve and contribute there will be an increasingly heavy weight on their shoulders as they defend this country, work and pay taxes to keep our economy moving.
As fewer serve, the burden for those who do will become greater. Our borders won’t need any less defending in 12 years and our national budget will not be smaller, in fact the opposite. More and more will be expected from our children and our grandchildren, who will be crushed under the weight of carrying the majority of the country on their shoulders.
This is why our opportunities for real change are limited, making the lack of support for the IDF or National Civilian Service Law, voted down in July, all the more galling and incomprehensible.
This is not a missive against any particular group of Israeli citizens; however, we do need to make a clear division in Israeli society. Not on religious, communal or ethnic lines, but the state needs to make a distinction between those who contribute to society and those who do not.
Each community has those who serve and contribute and those who do not.
Every Israeli citizen should be treated the same; just as every holder of an Israeli blue ID card receives the same rights and benefits, so we should all have the same obligations.
Our citizenship is what unites us all and we should be judged by the color of our ID card and not the color of our skin or the color or style of our headwear.
There should be one rule for all Israeli citizens; those who contribute more should benefit more, those who contribute less should benefit less.
In most countries there is an unwritten social contract between the citizens and their state which says exactly that. However, in Israel one can benefit fully from the state without contributing towards one’s society. This is obviously an untenable situation and one which if left without repair will place Israel’s economic, social and security accomplishments in grave danger.
Sadly, this is our future unless we rectify the situation sooner rather than later.
Nevertheless, we can start to reverse the increasing numbers of those who do not serve and contribute. As things stand there is no incentive to serve and contribute, because those who do not contribute will still receive the same benefits, sometimes even greater benefits, than those who do. This system, which has already lasted 64 years too long, incentivizes non-productivity and sycophantism.
If benefits are legally made commensurate to contribution then we will naturally see greater contribution. We should give priority housing, cheaper or free education from an earlier age, stipends for further education and greater state benefits to those who contribute. This will incentivize those who do not because they will see and potentially reap the benefits if they start to contribute more fully than they currently do.
The state has broken its social contract with those who are asked to contribute fully because it does not expect the same level of contribution from others. This has demoralized many Israelis, who have subsequently taken to the streets in recent years rallying for a just, fair and equitable society and an equalization of the national burden.
The state has an obligation to its people, and the people have an obligation to their state and society. This is the basis of citizenship and remedying other issues in society and our economy are just dealing with the symptoms and not the disease.
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This is what the electoral discourse should be about.
These elections should be a debate about citizenship.
We need to look after our future and our children’s future by having this debate and making the vital decisions now.
As former US President Theodore Roosevelt, a proud proponent of equal opportunity, once said: “The first requisite of a good citizen... is that he shall be able and willing to pull his own weight.”
Our blue ID card is our certificate of citizenship of the State of Israel. It should also be a proud reminder of what it means to be Israeli, what we have worked hard to achieve in the past and our rallying call for the equalization of our society.
The writer is a member of Knesset and secretary-general of Yisrael Beytenu.