By Moshe Arens
It was not right that the attention of the Tal Law’s cancellation has all been focused on the ultra-Orthodox community’s absence from the IDF, while the Muslim and Christian community has been effectively disregarded; equality is indivisible.
If you’re an Israeli citizen who is ultra-Orthodox, Muslim or Christian, you’re exempt from sharing the burden of the country’s defense with your fellow citizens who are Jewish or Druze. There is no discrimination here – these religious communities are equal when it comes to not defending the country. To be precise, not quite all. The young men of the small Circassian community residing in Kafr Kama and Reikhaniya in the Galilee, although Muslims, are obligated to do compulsory military service. They are the exception.
The wording of the Supreme Court ruling invalidating the Tal Law – which allowed full-time yeshiva students to defer army service – may have had great significance to members of the legal profession. They surely understood when the judges called the law unconstitutional and not proportional. For the rest of us, there was no need for this legalese. We knew all along that it was just not right – that the burden of defense was not being shared equally among all its citizens regardless of their religious affiliation.
As a matter of fact, it was not right that the attention has all been focused on the ultra-Orthodox community’s absence from the IDF, while the Muslim and Christian community has been effectively disregarded. Equality is indivisible, not even along religious lines. This is true, everyone must admit, when it comes to the rights that all citizens of Israel must enjoy. It is equally true in a democratic society when it comes to the obligations of citizenship. And yet, for over 60 years this blatant discriminatory situation, affecting the ultra-Orthodox, Muslims and Christians, has existed in Israel. Indeed, the number of young men not serving in the IDF has increased year on year.
The excuses offered for this anomalous situation are numerous. For the ultra-Orthodox, it is said that their “learning” is more important to the State of Israel than their presence in the military. For Muslims and Christians, it is argued that, being Arabs, they cannot be obligated to fight against the Arab enemies of Israel.
The truth is that the ultra-Orthodox community does not want its young men mingling with others in the IDF, and ultra-Orthodox political parties have, over the years, used their political leverage to bar any changes in the exemption from military service that their community has enjoyed. As for Israel’s Arab community, it has quietly accepted the not insignificant economic benefits that accrue to those not doing obligatory military service, while a small minority volunteers for military service year by year.
The invalidation of the Tal Law provides an opportunity to tackle this abnormal situation. The obligations of citizenship must be shared equally by all of Israel’s citizens. By no stretch of the imagination can this be done by another law. The present situation has existed for too long and involves too large a number of Israel’s citizens for it to be changed in one fell swoop. It is obvious that the process of normalization can only be carried out gradually, year by year.
The special IDF frameworks that have been established in the last few years to facilitate the military service of Haredim have to be enlarged, doubling the number of ultra-Orthodox serving in the IDF year on year.
For young Muslims and Christians, a number of steps need to be taken. The Bedouin infantry regiment, in which Bedouin serve on a voluntary basis, should be enlarged. Another such regiment should be formed, and volunteering for service in the IDF by Israel’s Arab citizens should be promoted and encouraged.
Obligatory military service should be applied to the Bedouin in the Galilee, where the volunteer rate is substantial. It has been suggested that “national service,” or “civilian service,” can be a substitute for military service for those not serving in the IDF. This is an illusion which only emphasizes that certain sectors of the population are being allowed to avoid the military service to which the rest of the population is subject. It serves as an indication that it is acceptable that certain communities don’t take part in the defense of the country.
This concept – that a part of the population is exempt from defending the country because of their religious affiliation – is not acceptable and never will be acceptable. Defense of the country is the ultimate obligation of citizenship by all its countrymen, without exception.