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Sheldon Kirshner

All Israelis should be subject to military service

For decades now, Israeli politicians have spoken of the pressing need to pass legislation mandating military service on a compulsory and equitable basis. This would mean that the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews would no longer qualify for draft exemptions and would have to share the burden of defending the homeland along with secular and traditional Jews.

This perennial but unresolved issue has surfaced yet again since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war and the Israel-Hezbollah war this past October. These wars on the southern and the northern borders have necessitated the mobilization of nearly 300,000 reservists, the largest call-up in Israeli history.

According to reports, the Israeli armed forces still face manpower shortages, a problem that can be solved if conscripts and reservists alike are required to serve significantly more time. Since they already have laid their lives on the line for Israel, they should not be asked to do even more.

In all fairness, the Israel Defence Forces should be drawing recruits from the haredi community, which most definitely is not pulling its weight in the defense of the country.

Over the past year, 66,000 military-age ultra-Orthodox Jews in yeshivas have dodged mandatory service after receiving exemptions from the draft board, an arrangement that causes understandable resentment and anger. Only 540 of these yeshiva students have enlisted in the armed forces in the past few months, underscoring the severity of the problem.

The politically inspired arrangement that enables them to evade military service, which was devised by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, causes understandable nation-wide resentment and anger. Due to the exigencies of electoral politics, Israeli governments since the advent of statehood have caved in to the demands of haredi politicians and allowed this unjust practice to perpetuate itself.

After the horrific events of October 7, during which 1,200 Israelis and foreigners were murdered by Hamas terrorists, forcing Israel to declare war, this outmoded tradition should be scuttled once and for all.

Troubled by this grossly unfair and untenable situation, opposition leader Yair Lapid has introduced legislation to penalize draft dodgers. Under his proposal, able-bodied men of sound mind who evade military service will no longer be eligible for government subsidies.

“This law means one simple thing,” Lapid said last week.”Everyone is equal before the law. Everyone protects the country. Everyone contributes to the country…The new law will be clear and simple: those who evade will not receive money. Those who do not serve in the army…will not receive allowances from the state.”

Lapid’s proposal has garnered the support of some cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and a number of politicians aligned with ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition.

Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli has written a letter to Netanyahu decrying the unbearable status quo whereby “certain groups in society assume the burden of security…while other groups…continue their routine lives.”

Public Welfare Minister Ya’akov Margi of the Shas Party has called for limited haredi recruitment, saying that ultra-Orthodox Jews not engaged in full-time Torah studies should be drafted.

It goes without saying that Lapid’s bill must be seriously considered by the government. Israel is fighting a protracted two-front war today, and Israelis from all walks of life should share this crushing burden equally.

If ultra-Orthodox Jews find military service objectionable, they should be pressed into national service at the very least. They can work in hospitals, schools and charitable institutions.

Since Netanyahu is dependent on haredi parties to prop up his government, it is questionable whether he will respond positively to Lapid’s bill. Netanyahu will do virtually anything to survive politically. But if fairness and decency are to prevail, he must support this long overdue legislation to ensure that all eligible Israelis fulfill their duty to the state.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com