Don’t give them guns, cut their funds

Purim is an ongoing hectic event. A blend of Halloween and Mardi Gras spiced with a classic Jewish myth about another time we escaped annihilation. Throughout the week, the sons and daughters of Israel let loose and dress in ways they restrain themselves from during the rest of the year. One might expect the pinnacle of chaos to occur in the long raves of the Arava or the darkened basements of Tel Aviv, but for anyone who has been there during the holiday, it’s known that there’s no place where revelers let loose more than in Meah Shearim. A short tour around the neighborhood will introduce you face-to-face with the “Ad Delo Yada” Mitzvah. Flocks of drunk unstable men, ranging in ages from 8 to 70, yell and curse in Yiddish, dance, revel, and even fight (for those wondering, the women dart quickly between houses as if rushing to hide their existence).

In a neighbourhood tour, amidst what can only be described as a large block of disorder, an older ultra-Orthodox family man with three children approached me. “You look like one who supports the hostages,” he said. In the face of my astonishment, he clarified his statement: “You look like one who wants their return, who demonstrates for their repatriation.” I asked the gentleman if he wanted them to stay in Gaza. “You look like them”, he said while unsubtly changing the subject, “and they’re like you. When I see their pictures on the news. Like you. Hedonists”. “I too was a hedonist once”, he said, looking into my eyes as if he believed he was making a significant contribution to me, “but I found the Torah,” he concluded and continued on his way.

In other words, the esteemed gentleman meant that since the hostages are secular, or as he phrased it – “hedonist”, they deserve to be abducted as a sort of metaphysical punishment, and since they strayed from the path of the Torah, there’s no action to be taken for their return. He was willing to let the hostages – by now a sanctified topic for most Israelis – die, for the sake of what his public sanctifies. These brief and harsh exchanges embody within them a difficult understanding, which I believe is essential for the liberal-Zionist community to understand there is no common denominator among all segments of the Israeli people. Another additional understanding that this community should adopt is that, despite the pain involved, it is not the majority group anymore.

Meanwhile, not far from Meah Shearim, the halls of the Knesset were hot as usual. The debates over the framework of enlistment for the ultra-Orthodox public ahead of the formulation of the bill that aims to regulate the issue are escalating to new heights every passing day. The government is at a crossroads where it may fall apart, Likud members are attacking each other to improve their position before the division of the political capital, the ultra-Orthodox are preparing their “Gevald” signs, and the seculars are gearing up with their “Parasites” signs. As I mentioned, in my opinion, it is incumbent upon the secular public – that conducts most of the Liberal-Zionist community in Israel – to face two realities. The first is that the gap between them and the ultra-Orthodox (and a lot of the Religious-Zionists) is unbridgeable, and the second is that they are not the majority group anymore, and therefore, they should act as a sector.

How are these views implemented regarding the ultra-Orthodox conscription issue? In an unpopular opinion: despite prevailing voices within the serving secular public, it is argued that the entire ultra-Orthodox population should not be conscripted into the army. Full conscription of the ultra-Orthodox jeopardizes the nature of the IDF as a national army, may lead to increased international diplomatic pressure, and threatens the very existence of Israel as a democratic state and therefore as a state altogether. Why?

Let’s start with the army’s character. The IDF was established as a national army subordinate to the State of Israel with no separate agenda other than defending the security of the state. Indeed, a significant number of soldiers present various agendas in the war in Gaza, such as the desire to reoccupy the land, but these soldiers are punished, and their voices are silenced by the senior command. The enlistment of tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox individuals each year could create a wave of “religiousization” in the army that the secular command will no longer be able to contain. Eventually, it will be replaced by a religious command that will not have the desire to contain the religious fervor.

This conclusion arises from two simple assumptions: firstly, an army that contains more religious individuals will necessarily be more religious. And the larger their percentage in the army, and the more religious they are, the closer it will come to being an army with religious motivations. Secondly, setting recruitment quotas for ultra-religious institutions will incentivize educational institutions that educate their students to examine reality through a strictly religious prism, to integrate endorsements for participation in war in their studies of sacred texts. This combination could create a dangerous mutation of war sanctification. Phenomena such as this can be found on a small scale in ultra-Orthodox units in the Israeli army and on a large scale in the armies of our worst most despicable enemies. It can turn out as an institutionalized mass arming of a vast and growing group that openly opposes the existence of Israel as a Jewish state that is not a religious autocracy.

For the secular public, who will inevitably be required to continue serving in the army even when its objectives change according to religious directives, and to bear most of the implications of the international isolation and potential economic sanctions that may arise from such aspirations, it means nurturing its hangman. The secular hope that the enlistment of the ultra-Orthodox into the army will make them more “Israeli” is a fantasy from which one must disengage. It will only make Israel more ultra-Orthodox.

We shall continue with the importance of the military to the secular sector. As revealed in the now-distant Kaplan protest, the military is a significant lever on the state. The threats of the Air Force reservists to cease their volunteering if the dangerous legislation package promoted by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, were to pass, was probably the biggest blow to the government’s aspirations to dismantle the Supreme Court. It is a lesson of utmost significance for the secular public, who bear the “heavy burden” of safeguarding Israel as a liberal democracy on their shoulders, which they must confront. Indeed, the universal ideals of liberalism and the desire to find a common denominator inherent in classical Zionism hinder this for many, but secularists must adopt the Machiavellian approach that “fortune favors the one who changes with the times”. In a reality where the religious population is growing (and getting more religious), the settler lobby is becoming stronger, the international community is getting distant, and the State of Israel is slipping into the hands of corrupt politicians and fundamentalist rabbis, it is up to the secular public to grasp onto the military. Firstly, to ensure the continued existence of the military as a state institution free from religious aspirations, and secondly, so that they can hold onto what every pressure group in a multi-sectorial country needs to survive – leverage over the state.

In summary, although the main proponents of drafting the ultra-Orthodox are the secularists, it is a step that has the potential to cause them much harm and endanger their very existence as a community in Israel. Drafting the ultra-Orthodox could turn the IDF into a “holy army” and sideline the secularists from their most significant role in the country. Indeed, the ultra-Orthodox should contribute to the society in which they live, but the military path is just one of the ways to do so. For example, the ultra-Orthodox have immense potential in various state institutions that also require a large boost in manpower – whether it’s the welfare system or healthcare. Additionally, Additionally, and perhaps most trivially, it is incumbent upon the state to encourage the ultra-Orthodox – who may constitute the majority in Israel within a few decades – to join the workforce. A state where a minority group supports the majority is not a sustainable state – neither economically nor socially. For this to happen, the state must muster the courage to take the uncomfortable but necessary step and create a need for integration. In other words – don’t give them guns, cut their funds.

About the Author
Omer Biran is a 4th year student for LL.B. in law with a direct route to M.A. in government. Former columnist / tech reporter for 'Under the Radar'. Research intern in 'The Institute for Policy' and Strategy at Reichman University. Former creator and presenter of the radio program 'The Megaphone' on the University Radio which dealt with protest music in a historical context.
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