Reexamining support of Zionist ideals

Israeli society laments the fact that the haredim do not serve in the army, but a study shows they're not alone.

Soldiers 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Soldiers 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Two weeks ago, this paper described in an editorial entitled “A wrong-headed change on IDF exemptions for haredim” how the government succumbed to the haredi population by providing a military exemption for all yeshiva students who reached the age of 22, offering them the option of performing one year of mandatory national service instead of enlisting in the IDF.
The move was reportedly supposed to offer haredi yeshiva students who opted to enter the labor force an opportunity to do so relatively easily without the need to be burdened by service in the IDF. Presumably this would decrease unemployment in the haredi sector and enhance the potential workforce that exists within the community which, in turn, would contribute to Israeli society at large. The article claimed that this decision, allotting exemptions so effortlessly, struck a blow to the Zionist ideals of “the people’s army” upon which the IDF bases itself as it advocates mandatory service for all.
And, considering that the one framework that has remained intact throughout the challenges of the “me generation” is that of the two or three years of mandatory service in the IDF, this exemption for yeshiva students was an impediment to those same Zionist ideals.
While I may not agree with the exemption, I strongly believe that once you start referencing Zionist ideals and contemplating the challenges of infusing ideology in a “me generation”, it is only fair to account for the many segments of the Israeli population where these same patterns are exhibited (albeit for different reasons) and it is important to examine the source of the problem before contemplating solutions.
THE COMPROMISE (for lack of a better term) for the haredim described above can be disturbing to the greater Israeli public, as the loss of potential manpower threatens to weaken the strongest cohesive outfit the country has. However as we reflect upon this hindrance we should consider the following statistics as well. Thirty five percent of secular teens in the greater Tel Aviv area are dodging the draft. While some of these teens may cite internal ideological conflicts with serving in the army, they nevertheless consciously shun what remains to this day the main test of loyalty and responsibility to our nation. As of November 30, 2009, statistics showed that some 25% of military- age boys and 40% of military-age girls do not go into the army.
When asked for an explanation regarding the decrease in the percentages of young women serving in the IDF, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar explained that many army-aged females were making false statements regarding religious observance in order to avoid military duty, and he added that the habit of making these false statements has become an “industry.”
Regarding reserve duty in the IDF the numbers are equally disturbing as according to unofficial estimates no more than 30% of reservists report for duty every year, and of that percentage, a far smaller number do so willingly. At one point, in response to these decreasing numbers, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau had even proclaimed that the army was no longer a “people’s army,” but rather “half the people’s army.”
Considering the full extent of these statistics and the far-reaching ramifications they have in all segments of our population, the challenge of preserving the Zionist ideal and motivating a “me generation” is far greater then we may have imagined.
In fact, it is important to remember that the haredi world does not even represent nor espouse the ideals of Zionism. The haredim who serve in the army do not do so ideologically but rather for practical considerations. The greatest threat to the “people’s army” is when those people who are supposed to champion the Zionist ideal, no longer do so or do so with less enthusiasm, as the numbers above may suggest.
When we consider the “me generation” and its negative affect towards Zionist ideals, the first place we should be looking is within the sectors of society that are supposed to embrace them. We should implement educational programs and curriculum which revisit these foundations and help reinstate the pioneering spirit upon which the country was founded. When all this is done then we can begin to contemplate how to incorporate some of these thoughts into parts of the population that currently do not subscribe to them.
The writer teaches at Hesder Kiryat Gat and serves as a guest lecturer for the IDF Rabbinate. He is also an author and lecturer on Israel, Religious Zionism and Jewish education.