On February 21, 2012, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the Tal Law – (cutely named for and spearheaded by one former Supreme Court Justice Tzvi Tal) originally passed on July 23, 2002, mandating that at age 22, yeshiva students may choose between a truncated 16-month IDF service and a one-year civil service program alongside a private income source – is unconstitutional.

Currently, the new coalition government has between two and three months to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling and pass a new law to replace the Tal Law. While indeed, judged a harsh fate and a low blow to the lifestyle of Israel’s roughly counted 800,000 haredim, there is still another side to consider.

In a May 11 Haaretz editorial Amnon Be’eri and Mohammad Darawshe of the Abraham Fund Initiatives write that:

…it is possible that within weeks, Arab citizens will be told they are required to serve in a civic service corps…it would be a grave mistake, however, to bundle ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs together in the same basket. It’s true that both groups are not drafted into the army, but the reasons for this are fundamentally different.

If indeed they feel that pushing civic service on the Arab population is oppressive considering their [the Arab's] perceived lack of democratic rights in the state’s decision-making processes, I must agree that first, the vagueness surrounding the issue of citizenship must be immediately clarified; as it should for the most extreme and fundamental of Israel’s haredi population.

In reading the Ha’aretz editorial, I was reminded of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Loyalty Oath Bill that was passed through Knesset on October 10, 2010; according to which, both old (Israel’s Palestinians who make-up 20% of the population) and new non-Jewish residents would swear an oath of allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state.” The bill was deemed draconian and on October 18 of that year, Prime Minister Netanyahu extended a Cabinet-level debate on the bill to open it up to liberal amendments.

During that week, two years ago, I sent an email to a friend of mine, an Arab girl who I used to see all the time in my community and (at the time) happened to be employed as a young journalist with al-Jazeera. Because we learned Arabic together and compared religions, I was curious about her take on the Loyalty Oath Bill. She wrote:

…I don’t know if this is the right word but when I heard about this law I kinda felt a way of harassment from the government.. that’s why I said I don’t know his [Netanyahu's] aim. If it comes to me, I would highly reject this law because it really against our own beliefs and thought. Who said that if I want to live in a country I should admit its nationality? So what? Go to Canada and see how people live peacefully and leaving all these political issues behind them, because they want real peace and they are not looking for any excuses to kick their non-Canadian out.

She continued:

I live in Israel, which is for me and for every Palestinian, occupied Palestine, and I will never ever pledge loyalty to this country because it doesn’t reflect me…Moreover, they should not forget that I was born here, it means that I’m a resident who gets all my absolute rights! And one of my rights in a ‘democratic country’ is my freedom of speech and thinking. How come they force me to do something I don’t believe in, in a democratic country!?

I was disappointed when I learned that she insisted the government was harassing her, yet she refused to look beyond calling Israel, “Occupied Palestine.” Fatima Rayan is still my friend and if the haredim do not want to pitch in to help the state via military service or otherwise, they are still my comrades.

In their Haaretz editorial, Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Darawshe write:

…it would be a grave mistake, however, to bundle ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs together in the same basket. It’s true that both groups are not drafted into the army, but the reasons for this are fundamentally different.

To the contrary, I feel that ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs who insist on being considered Palestinians are quite similar. Each socioreligious party is bent on ignoring the laws of the country due to religious fundamentalism or the refusal to recognize the state. I feel that indeed they should be bundled “together in the same basket.” While you cannot force an ethos on a people, you can at least offer an ultimatum.

A revamped Tal Law that applies to Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews alike is a firm step in the ideal direction which is an inter-cultural, interfaith understanding.  Arabs should not be forced into civil-service in the Arab sector, this only increases segregation.

When the Jewish Austrian phenomenologist Martin Buber first immigrated to Israel in 1938, he taught his own concoction of Jewish humanism, based on what we read in his famous essay, “I and Thou.”

His philosophy, according to Robin Twite, (director of the Environmental Program at Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information) “called for mutual recognition among faiths, based on the realization that there were certain basic concepts common to Judaism, Islam, Christianity and indeed to all the great religions.” Twite writes, “Perhaps not surprisingly Buber encountered considerable hostility in Orthodox Jewish circles, and never obtained in Israel the high level of appreciation and recognition that he had enjoyed in pre-World War II Europe.”

Martin Buber 1878-1965

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