Israel faces the conundrum of having large segments of its population that loathe the nation’s very existence
By MOSHE GIT
The hottest issue in Israel at present, and it has been like that, to one degree or another, for the last couple of years, is the matter of shivyon ba’netel — equal sharing of the burden. The burden here is military service.
Although Israel is known as a country where everybody has to serve in its armed forces, the reality is much different. Arab citizens, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and observant or married women are exempt. The growing ranks of those exempted has raised the ire of those who do serve, many of whom have begun to regard themselves as suckers. The call to end the inequality became a battle cry during the last parliamentary elections, and a number of leading candidates promised to bring this painful anomaly to an end.
But this is impossible.
There is hardly a country that is devoid of conflicts between different segments of its population. In some cases those conflicts threaten to pull the country apart. However, there is hardly a nation, besides Israel, where substantial segments of the population delegitimize and even loathe their country’s very existence. You cannot draft into the military thousands of people who not only couldn’t care less about the existence of the State of Israel, but also believe that giving a hand to the state violates their values.
The Arabs cannot identify with a state that proclaims itself Jewish. How can they identify with the flag that depicts the Star of David in its center, or with a national anthem that focuses on the aspiration of the Jewish people to have Palestine as their homeland? How can they celebrate Israel’s Independence Day, when that day is observed as their national calamity (Nakba in Arabic)? Can the state of Israel entrust its security to soldiers whose affinities align more with its enemies?
The ultra-Orthodox Jews hold that Israel is a secular contraption that is an affront to God, much like the erection of the Tower of Babel was an affront to God. It is up to God to found a Jewish state, not up to some unobservant assimilationist Jews dubbed Zionists. Moreover, they hold that the most important goal in life is the study of the Torah. Military service is bound to intrude on the time available to study Torah.
Moreover, so they argue, if there is a defender for the state of Israel, it is God. Thus the study of Torah constitutes the true defense; any security provided by the IDF is a mirage. How can the military benefit by forcibly recruiting hordes of people who are mostly ignorant in core skills, such as arithmetic and language, and who believe that their military service would be a sin?
Then there are those who suggest that in lieu of military service, the Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox Jews and religiously observant Jewish women ought to be called for alternative civilian service, to work in schools, hospitals, etc. In addition to invoking objections similar to the ones associated with military service, there is an inherent civil liberties issue here. Any compulsion by the state is evil. Drafting into the military is perhaps a necessary evil; but compulsory civilian service is tantamount to slavery by the state.
The bottom line is that the solutions offered now in Israel for equality in sharing the burden are illusory and constitute a waste of time and effort. Things are bound to stay as they have been since the inception of the Jewish state.
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