Even those who would at least agree with me that the army does not need every 18-year-old male will still argue that if they don’t go to the army, they should go into national service or “Sherut Le’umi”. The idea is simple: if you can’t serve the country one way, serve it another.

This premise suffers from two serious flaws: conceptual and practical.

Conceptually, as Thomas Sowell noted, anyone who works for a living and provides a good or service serves the public, whether directly or indirectly. Grocers, electricians and insurance agents all serve the public at least as well as government workers.

The only difference is that the former are paid voluntarily while the latter are given their money by force of law. Thus anyone who goes out to make a living instead of going to the army “serves” the public both directly and indirectly through taxes and contributing to the economy.

Practically, Israeli National Service is little more than a government funded work program which provides cheap labor to a variety of institutions; “volunteers” are paid a small stipend, some benefits and a grant when they finish. Unlike voluntary workers who have the option of quitting if mistreated, people who are compelled to “serve the public” can only hope for a transfer and finish out their year (or two).

Even if no such mistreatment occurred, adding thousands of new “volunteers” would increase the strain on Israel’s already stretched budgetary resources. In a time when even the army is not immune from threats of budget cuts, it is hard to see the Treasury agreeing to a huge spike in costs funding the work of anyone who doesn’t go to the army. Anyway you slice it, it makes no sense.

Service in the army, police force, fire brigade or social services is certainly a noble calling. There is nothing noble about making people do so upon threat of imprisonment or loss of rights.