The ongoing debate over a revision of the Tal law that is supposed to regulate an equitable national service highlights, once again, our proclivity to use coercion or force to achieve our aims. Should that not be sufficient, more force would be the preferred option. Should that also fail we can always use even more force.
While we have encountered the limits of force repeatedly particularly when dealing with our Arab neighbors, we still like to go that way even in our own internal politics because we are used to it, we do it well and it makes us feel good. After all, it is disgusting that freeloading Haredim and Arabs, not necessarily in that order, don’t do their share of national service for years and years. Not only that, they receive benefits, heaven forbid, as citizens of the state. This situation (which has been going on for more than 60 years) must be stopped immediately !
The way the argument is carried, it is intimated that the Haredi and Arab populations, and only they, are responsible for not doing national service. They, after all, have to understand that burdens must be shared equally. Now, that the remainder of the population has had enough, Arabs and Haredim must be drafted and if they don’t like it, they should be punished. That’s only fair.
Aren’t we forgetting a few things here ? Haven’t we been willing accomplices in this state of affairs ? Hasn’t this been convenient for the rest of us ? It did, after all, permit large scale discrimination of the Arab population who did not receive benefits solely doled out to graduates of national service. It felt good to say: They don’t do national service, they don’t deserve equal rights. And the Haredim ? Did we really want them in the army with all the logistical and religious burden that it entails ? Not really ! After all they are different and we like to be surrounded by people like us.
And now the time for reckoning has come. What has been, cannot go on. Economics, civics and common sense say so. So what do we do ? Legislate with a heavy hand and demand painful sanctions. After all, Arabs and Haredim are stubborn. They won’t understand. It’s their fault anyway. We had nothing to do with it.
It is as if it is not crystal clear that we are talking here about a piece of complex social engineering, a serious attempt to include two parts of the population who have traditionally been kept away from our campfire. Unfortunately circumstances are difficult for both groups: The Arab population has not had its share of the cake for years and the absence of a peace process with the Palestinians closes their heart. The Haredi population is under an onslaught of modernity which strikes fear in their hearts. This is not the best of times to tell them: Join us at our campfire, like it or not, or else !
This approach is as likely to succeed as Netanyahu is likely to invite Ahmedinajad for a cozy dinner to discuss joint nuclear research projects. Resolving the issue of a truly equitable national service requires finesse, sensitivity, patience, tolerance and most of all a clear vision of what the State of Israel should look like in the future and the public diplomacy to sell this vision to a sceptical and cynical public. Netanyahu is not up to this, neither is anybody else in the government coalition. Should we be surprised if Arabs and Haredim are unlikely to join us at our campfire soon ? Not really, not with this government.