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Sunday, July 08, 2012

Religious-bashing dressed up to look like patriotism

Last night there was a 'rally' in Tel Aviv, that was billed as a 'universal draft rally', and was purportedly held to try to pressure the government to pass new legislation that would require all segments of Israeli society to share in the burden of national defense through mandatory conscription.

If only the rally had been about what the organizers say it was, you would have seen hundreds of thousands of people there, instead of the estimated 10,000.  But as is often the case here in Israel, people rarely say what they mean. 

The first hint was the timing.  When a rally is held on a Satruday night in the early summer (when Shabbat ends after 8:30PM), you might as well post a big sign saying, 'secular Tel Avivis only... religious participants and those from outside 'Gush Dan' not welcome'.

Not surprisingly, most of the reports I have read so far indicate that last night's rally's unwavering focus was on the the Haredi (ultra-religious) segment of Israeli society who are portrayed as the primary block of Israeli citizens (i.e. potential draftees) who are not shouldering their share of Israel's national defense burden.

Before I go any further, let me state for the record that I feel strongly that some sort of an organized framework has to be created through which Haredi citizens will be required to serve the country from which they (like all citizens) derive benefit. 

However, what you didn't see or hear at last night's rally was any data that might have provided a more factual glimpse of who is and isn't serving in the IDF. 

For instance, while the information is readily available from the IDF's manpower directorate, few people mention the fact that more than half of those who receive draft notices each year are exempted from military service for medical reasons. 

Think about that statistic for a moment:  More.  Than.  Half

If even a portion of those who are currently given draft exemptions for medical reasons (think asthmatics, diabetics, obese, etc.), would be forced into an alternate track where they would be required to do some sort of administrative IDF or civilian national service, the benefit to the country would be tremendous! 

So where does that leave us?  The remaining (slightly less than) half of the population who are considered medically fit to serve in the IDF, can be divided into several large, easily identifiable demographics:

Haredi (ultra-orthodox) men

Haredi (ultra-orthodox) women

National religious women

Arab men

Arab women

Yet, for some reason, last night's rally identified only Haredi men who must be forced to enlist at any cost.

Why weren't the organizers and protesters from  the so called 'universal draft' movement talking about the other segments of Israeli society and how to bring them onboard?  And why isn't the related issue of national service - a concept that today is voluntary, but could easily be made into a mandatory parallel track for draftees who, for whatever reason are unable or unwilling to serve in the army - being discussed?

Think about this for a moment...

The number of Haredi women who could/should be doing some sort of national service will remain relatively low because, as a group, they tend to marry and start families at an earlier age than most other segments of Israeli society.

The number of national religious women who serve in the IDF has been rising steadily over the past 5 years (something you don't hear much about in the news), and such a large proportion of national religious women who don't do army service are already volunteering for a year or two of national service, that there would hardly be an outcry if civilian national service became an official 2nd track in a mandatory draft scheme.

Which leaves a huge segment (approximately 20%), of Israeli society about which the 'universal draft' movement is curiously silent:  Arabs.

True, many Arab women will probably fall into a similar category as Haredi women in terms of being exempt from any sort of national service based on their tendency to marry and start families early. 

But judging by the not-insignificant number of single Israeli Arab women who are currently enrolled in Israeli universities, I certainly wouldn't discount the potential contribution that Arab women could make - especially within their own communities - if they were obliged to do some sort of national service; whether military or civilian in nature.

Which brings us to Arab men. 

While many members of the Israeli Druse and Bedouin community serve in the IDF with honor and distinction, they do so on a voluntary basis; meaning that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs are not obliged to do any sort of national service!

Why is nobody at these 'universal draft' rallies talking about this?

The reason is very simple: 

While they are saying that they are rallying to get all Israelis to shoulder their fair share of the defense burden... what they are really doing is employing a rather clever new way to attack the religious community without appearing to be anti-religious, (in much the same way that anti-Semites often disguise their hatred of Jews as criticism of the state of Israel and her policies).

I'm all for a change in the status quo... but only if it will act as a unifying force for the country.  

Until the so-called 'universal draft' movement genuinely embraces a broad platform for a universal military draft of all citizens, along with mandatory civilian national service for those who are unable /unwilling to serve in the military (according to clearly defined guidelines), you can discount these Tel Aviv 'rallies' as little more than old fashioned religious bashing dressed up to look and sound like patriotism.

Posted by David Bogner on July 8, 2012 | Permalink

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I'm a long time reader/lurker, first time commenter.
I'm national religious Likud voter, and I attended the rally last night. Two speakers were orthodox rabbis, one was an Arab woman whose 3 children had served.
Every speaker spoke equally about service for Arabs, Haredim, and consciencious objectors.
I think your analysis missed the mark this time.

Posted by: Noach Roth | Jul 8, 2012 1:21:04 PM

David,
I agree with much of what you wrote but one sentence is actually quite wrong. You write:
If even a portion of those who are currently given draft exemptions for medical reasons (think asthmatics, diabetics, obese, etc.), would be forced into an alternate track where they would be required to do some sort of administrative IDF or civilian national service, the benefit to the country would be tremendous!
No. If people forced to do desk jobs in the army were freed to create actual value for society by going into business, by going to school to learn a trade or by doing almost anything that's valuable enough that somebody is willing to pay for it, we'd all be better off.

Posted by: Moish | Jul 8, 2012 2:57:19 PM

Noach Roth... Thank you for offering an eye/ear witness perspective. You'll notice that I said, "most of the reports I have read so far indicate that last night's rally's unwavering focus was on the the Haredi (ultra-religious) segment of Israeli society...". I can't help it if the media decided to focus on the Haredi aspect only.

Moishe... Are you suggesting that the value of "...going into business, by going to school to learn a trade..." is so time sensitive as to make their desk job in the army counterproductive? I don't. There is value, even if it is only social/cultural value, in having as large a proportion of the population as possible have a shared experience at this formative age.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 8, 2012 3:59:58 PM

While I mostly agree with your post I think you are ignoring a social reality: Israelis, even the enightened secular ones from gush Dan, don't see the Arab population of Israel as a part of the country.

Posted by: Fred | Jul 8, 2012 6:26:17 PM

Fred said: While I mostly agree with your post I think you are ignoring a social reality: Israelis, even the enightened secular ones from gush Dan, don't see the Arab population of Israel as a part of the country.

If Fred's right, wouldn't an extension of national service be a constructive step towards changing this perception?

Posted by: Ellis | Jul 8, 2012 6:30:08 PM

I was going to post a response, discussing some of the subtle differences between groups and the economic consequences etc, but ya know what. We can discuss it in person in a few days. Hah!

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Jul 8, 2012 8:46:07 PM

It`s ironic that the rally was held in TA. Doesn`t TA and the region have a lower % of IDF service(excluding Heredi) than any other. How many of medical unfit are excused for reasons that are social or mental and how many of those would qualify for national service? It seems that this matter for many is just an excuse to bash another segment of society for political advantage without regard for the long range good of the country.

Posted by: ED | Jul 9, 2012 3:26:07 AM

If countries / religions / races, etc stopped fighting with one another, there would be no need for any "defence forces"

Posted by: illawarrior | Jul 9, 2012 12:41:54 PM

I will concede that the media has interest in focusing on the Haredi issue. That is not what took place at the hafgana.

Posted by: Noach Roth | Jul 9, 2012 4:30:17 PM

illawarrior... Pacifism only works between pacifists.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 9, 2012 4:36:20 PM

Oh no! Jordan's coming here? :-)

Posted by: Marsha | Jul 9, 2012 5:00:44 PM

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