I was invited for an hour of relaxed, weekend conversation on the Nechama Duek Show on Radio Tel Aviv. At the beginning of the broadcast, Duek interviewed the “suckers” in the protest tent. These are the reserve soldiers, the self-proclaimed “pushovers,” unhappy with their reserve duty while many ultra-Orthodox men do not serve in the army. The anonymous sucker repeats the hackneyed mantras against the haredim, draft evasion, et al. It reminds me of a tasteless piece of gum that has been chewed here in Israel for 60 years; every so often somebody decides to blow a bubble and pop it. “Here we go again,” I say to myself. “The next hate-fest is upon us.”
I wonder who planned and funded this performance. Probably the same people who produced the haredi bus scandal, and before that the mosque burning scandal. After all, how would we possibly survive here without our monthly hate-fest?
The sucker keeps talking and Duek emotionally calls for all Tel Avivians to join with the suckers – now. She then turns to me and asks, “What is your opinion?” I take advantage of the opportunity to praise the settlers in Judea and Samaria, reminding the listeners that, among other facts, the settlers boast the highest percentage of enlistment. “Yes, but what about the haredim?” Duek asks. I then explain the solution. “A terrible idea!” Duek counters, and goes on to the next topic.
I will preface my proposed solution by saying that I always tell my children that when they turn on the radio to hear the news, they must first understand that they are actually hearing what the person who wrote the news thinks is the news and that what he decides will be on the national agenda.
Two days later, at 7 a.m., I turned on Channel 2 radio to Aryeh Golan. What is on the news? Yes, it’s the “pushovers.” The picture is clear: big money (probably from Europe), cynical strategists, tents, news editors, the High Court – and some pushovers for good measure.
The army does not currently conscript haredim, even though it is obligated to do so. It cannot and does not want to. The haredim refuse to be conscripted against their will – no matter what. Mix them together and we get a smooth blend of hatred. Wonderful; we have something to look forward to.
What is the solution for the conscription of haredim? As always the solution is to deal with the real problem, not the problem conjured up by the news editors. The real problem is the “People’s Army” ethos. Mandatory conscription was instituted to serve that ethos and, indirectly, to empower minority sectors to, among other things, create discord – to divide and conquer.
Mandatory conscription has nothing to do with security. On the contrary, it is detrimental to security. But in a state founded on the security ethos, the power to forcibly conscript or excuse from conscription is the power to determine who is the insider and who is the outsider. The state will never give up this absolute power. Nechama Duek’s decisive “no” did not stem from her concern for Israel’s security; rather, it stemmed from her fear of losing this power.
The IDF has not been the People’s Army for a very long time. Less than a third of able-bodied men serve the full three years of mandatory service. Even more amazing, less than four percent of able-bodied men serve significantly in the reserves.
A graded and judicious transition to a professional volunteer army, based on ample compensation and a valued social status, would allow the army to choose the best and brightest and to fine-tune their skills. This would include academic training. The IDF would be able to extensively prepare for the battlefield of the future.
I know that religious Zionists do not like this idea. They think that their army service will pave their way into the heart of Israeli legitimacy. But that is not the case. Army service is a very important value. But those holding the reins will never let go in exchange for religious Zionist cannon-fodder.
Mandatory conscription contradicts the concept of liberty that is at the base of Judaism. Yes, provisions must be made for basic training for all draft-aged men in preparation for an emergency. This includes haredim – under the strictest guidelines of Jewish law, and as per their needs. But it is specifically the religious Zionists that must think out of the box and lead with the ethos of liberty.
Ultimately, Gush Katif was destroyed by a severe shortage of liberty – not of religious soldiers.