It’s time to tear down the walls of the ghettos that successive Israeli governments have allowed the ultra orthodox to build around their themselves, time to drag these people, kicking and screaming if necessary into the 21st century and confront them with the fact that we, the all too often silent majority simply aren’t willing to carry them on our shoulders any more.
Yesterday 50,000 people took to the streets to fight for the soul of the country. The protest may have been billed as being about universal service but it was about something much more important than that.The historic divide between Arab and Jew and Ultra Orthodox versus everyone else cuts right to the heart of the fault line that is this country.
No one knows what’s going to happen next, whether new legislation will be greeted by mass civil unrest from these massive communities or whether Netanyahu will even have the courage to take them on at all, but what is clear is that the status quo is dead and buried, the people have spoken, we simply aren’t willing to shoulder the burden any more.
I attended the demonstration with a friend from the army, with each speaker he became more enthused, “there’s no reason a Haredi soldier can’t be a decent fighter!” He shouted after one particularly rousing speech be a Rosh Yeshivah, “no reason an Arab can’t spend a couple of years of national service in a hospital!” he added.
Whether any of this will actually come to pass remains to be seen. The argument for universal enlistment truly is a battle for the soul of the country. Giants like David Ben Gurion and Menahem Begin didn’t have the stomach to take on the ultra orthodox and force them out of their ghettos and into army camps and I find it difficult to understand how pygmies like Netanyahu and Mofaz are going to succeed where they failed.
Because this isn’t just about putting people into a uniform, giving them a rifle and sending them on their way, this is about insisting that those who live in this country accept the obligations of citizenship. Too long have these 2 massive communities behaved as though they exist outside of the state of Israel, that the creation of the state around them was a tragedy rather than one of the great moments in the history of the Middle East, if not the world.
There is no deal to be reached here, no negotiation to be had, serve or go to prison, just like the rest of us, whether that will actually happen or not remains to be seen but the all too silent majority have found their voice and we are not happy!
This isn’t just about the fact that those of us who are shouldering the burden of defending the state (and financing it) are sick and tired of subsidising the lifestyles of others, it’s about forcing those who point blank refuse to accept that they live in the modern, secular state of Israel to open their eyes and realise that there is no getting away from the obligations of living here, that no one is going to continue to carry the burden of subsidising an increasing number of people to sit in Yeshivah all day and study Talmud, or in their villages becoming more and more embittered.
The ultra orthodox aren’t the only ones living in the ghetto. The words of Anette Haskiyah, whose 4 Arab sons are serving proudly in the IDF are particularly poignant; “I call on Israeli Arabs: Leave your ghetto, go out into the streets and stop being silent, bitter and discriminated against. You have an opportunity to protest against racism and discrimination; don’t listen to Arab MKs, they are leading you into an abyss,” she said.
It is time for this country to become united, to heal the disastrous wounds that have been allowed to fester between great swathes of the population and universal service is the perfect way to make it happen.
Now all eyes turn to the Prime Minister, the man whom the hands of history have deemed to be the man of the moment, the man who has the choice to stand up and leave a genuine legacy or to remain seated, pandering to special interest groups and unable to find the courage to do what needs to be done. Whatever he does one thing is clear;
WE WON’T BE YOUR SUCKERS ANY MORE!