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The People’s Army Ethos and the Ultra-Orthodox Media Carnival

By Moshe Feiglin

Translated from the Makor Rishon newspaper

Early Friday morning. The permanently clogged highways of greater Tel Aviv had not yet woken up. A slight drizzle, plenty of parking on the street into which you can usually not even fit a straight pin. I had been invited for an hour of relaxed, weekend conversation on the Nechama Duek show on Radio Tel Aviv. The studio shines with glass and chrome. Everything is modern and sparkling and everybody is nice.

The broadcast begins and Nechama interviews the “suckers” in the protest tent. These are the reserve soldiers, 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 for sixty 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 Nechama emotionally calls for all the Tel Avivians to go out now – NOW – to join up with the “suckers”. 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 the settlers boast the highest percentage of enlistment, among other facts. “Yes, but what about the Haredim?” Nechama asks. I then explain the solution. “A terrible idea!” Nechama counters, and goes on to the next topic.

My proposed solution follows below. But first I will preface 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; what he decides will be on the national agenda. In other words, when I turn on the news, I am selling myself to mental servitude; I am depositing the decision on where my consciousness should be – and more important, where it should not be – in the hands of the news editor.

Two days later, I turned on the radio; 7 a.m., channel 2, Aryeh Golan. What is on the news? That’s right. It is the “pushovers.” The picture is clear: Big money, probably European, cynical strategists, tents, news editors, the High Court and some “pushovers” for good measure. That is the end of the Tal Law that attempted to regulate the conscription of Haredim into the IDF. When the law is repealed this summer, all those Haredim who do not serve in the army will become criminals.

The army does not conscript Haredim now, even though it is currently 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 and 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. They will never give up this absolute power. Nechama Duek’s decisive “no” did not stem from her concern for Israel’s security; 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 one third of able-bodied men serve the full three years of mandatory service. Even more amazing, less than 4% 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. (For more on this topic, click here).

I know, 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 emergency. This includes Haredim – under the most strict Jewish-law guidelines, 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.

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