The minority's army?

Financial inducements for IDF service and penalties for those who shirk their duty are the answer.

idf soldier 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
idf soldier 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Figures recently reported by the head of the IDF's manpower department are disturbing: 27.7 percent of Jewish males did not serve in the IDF in 2007, compared to 11.2 percent in 1991. The discrepancy is easy to explain. The haredi population is growing and their children receive wholesale exemptions from serving their country. Almost half of all exemptions from military service go to ultra-Orthodox youth. The rest fall into the exemption categories of medical problems, being abroad and criminal records. There is also room to be infuriated at the ease with which some secular young men and women who claim an exemption from service are freed from duty. There are the female entertainers who pretend to be religious and who the next day are photographed wearing a thong; young women who enter into fake marriages to escape being recruited; and those who claim they are unable to withstand the emotional burden of military service but exhibit the considerable resilience needed in order to appear nightly in various theater performances. The motto applied to these draft dodgers should be: Whatever you do in your civilian life, you can also do as a soldier. We must not accept a situation in which draft-dodgers become audience darlings. But our complaints should be directed at those who release them from service without real justification for doing so. THE FIGURES are even worse if one takes into account the blanket exemption given to the Arab population, and the fact that a fair number of recruits are discharged before completing their full tour of duty. In fact, we are fast approaching a situation in which only a minority of Israeli citizens actually completes its military service. This has an adverse affect on the morale of active duty soldiers as it does on those in the reserves. WHAT SHOULD be done with the children of these two large communities - the Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox - which are, de facto, released from having to do IDF service? The matter of military service for Arabs raises a series of difficult issues related to politics, conscience and security which make it impossible to impose a general draft. Nor is it reasonable to forcibly recruit tens of thousands of haredi youth, who will fervently resist any attempt to be compelled to serve, and even if recruited would not do their jobs properly, making army routine a living nightmare. Mandatory national service has the same drawback of forced military service - namely, general resistance to it. What remains is the matter of money, and this should be reflected in a salary that directly corresponds to length of service. The proposal put forth by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann - that those serving in the IDF be paid the minimum wage - is a very worthy one. Yes, it would be costly for the budget, but it could be funded, at least partially, by cutting back on support for those who do not serve. Thus, for example, the eligibility for unemployment payments of those who do not serve would be limited during the period when they do not serve; and there is no reason to continue to so generously support yeshiva students whose conscience does not permit them to serve in the army that protects us all. THIS APPROACH, however, could seemingly entail a number of legal difficulties: How can soldiers and ex-soldiers be given certain benefits when the army knowingly does not recruit Arab youth? Doesn't this situation - such as giving priority in university dormitories - undermine the principle of equality safeguarded by the Basic Law: Human Dignity? The answer to this constitutional conundrum is twofold: First, proper remuneration during military service itself by means of the minimum wage in no way violates the principle of equality. On the contrary - the payment is intended to minimize the inequality between those who serve and those who do not. Secondly, those Arabs willing to serve should be permitted to volunteer for the IDF. True, the vast majority will forgo this option, in many cases out of fear of how their community will react, but I have no doubt that there will be those who are willing to serve. While they can be offered service in non-combat units, the most important thing is that the gates of the IDF will be opened to those Arabs who are willing to serve. Today, we already have a small number of Arab soldiers - both Muslims and Christians - in addition to a large number of Muslim Bedouin soldiers serving in the IDF. But they come as a result of educational activities carried out in certain villages and do not reflect the large numbers that might join up once the gates are opened, in addition to appropriate activities - such as the provision of non-Jewish religious services and the abolishment of certain ceremonies that non-Jewish soldiers have difficulty participating in. OPENING the gates of the IDF in this way could benefit us in two ways: It would make it clear to the Jewish population that the inflammatory statements made by Arab leaders and Knesset members do not represent the views of the entire Arab community in Israel, and it would decrease the inequality between Jews and Arabs. And perhaps this kind of shared service could also increase understanding and the desire for coexistence among both Arab and Jewish soldiers. I also believe that remuneration of the kind described could ultimately encourage a minority of the ultra-Orthodox population to enlist in the army too. These steps could stem the dangerous tide in which the people's army gradually finds itself becoming the minority's army.