Extremists taking over?

Let’s start with the example of Pakistan. Pakistan was founded in 1947 by Muhammed Ali Jinnah, an Indian Muslim and lawyer who was sophisticated, anglicized and secular. He was the head of the Muslim League of India, and pushed for a “two-state solution.” When the British agreed to the partition of India, he became the founder of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. His address to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947 was a model of moderation, tolerance and democracy. He wanted Pakistan to be a liberal democracy that would respect the rights of minorities, including Christians and Sikhs. However, Pakistan has developed into a militant Islamic Republic, where the extreme rules. Where terrorism is the norm, where attacks on India are planned and organized, where attacks on girl’s schools, Shia mosques and churches are routine, and where women are murdered for wearing western dress. In Pakistan the assassination of political leaders, such as Benazir Bhutto, is common. It was not meant to be that way, but the extremists took over once the country was founded.

Now look at Israel, which was founded by secular Zionists, looking for their rightful place in the world. They were opposed for the most part by the Orthodox Jewish religious establishment in Europe, Britain and the US, In Palestine it was mainly secular Jews who fought against the British and forced them to leave. Yes, there were religious Zionists who played a role, but a minor one. Chaim Weizmann and David Ben Gurion, the founders of Israel, were secular. An example of the similar situation to Pakistan was the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin by a religious fanatic Yigal Amir.

In order to placate the religious (haredi) elements, Ben Gurion, when he was the first PM, agreed to allow 400 yeshiva students to have exemptions from compulsory military service. In time that grew to 40,000 and now is estimated at 60,000, so that any yeshiva student can be certain of avoiding military service. Meanwhile the level of conscription of secular youths has gone down to ca. 50%. Their attitude is why should we serve and carry the full burden of service for the State if the religious youth, for whom the State also exists as a protection, can avoid enlistment. Hence they call their current demonstration “the sucker’s camp.” The Tal law that formalized the exemptions for the religious has been declared unconstitutional (Israel has no written constitution, but the meaning is the same) by the Supreme Court, which set a deadline of Aug 1 for the current Netanyahu coalition government to come up with a viable alternative that is equitable. If they fail to do so, then a completely equitable solution will be enforced, in other words all citizens at the age of 18, including haredim and Arabs, will be conscripted equally, although they need not serve in the military but could do equivalent national service.

The current coalition crisis comes down to this, the secular parties Kadima, that only recently joined the national unity coalition under Shaul Mofaz, and Israel Beitanu under FM Lieberman, insist on an equitable draft. The religious parties in the coalition, Shas and United Torah Judaism, insist on special rights for Yeshiva students. Representatives of Kadima, MK Plesner, and of the Government, Dep PM Yaalon, met to hash out a compromise and failed. Now Mofaz and Netanyahu are trying to reach a compromise. If they don’t give enough exemptions to the yeshiva students then the religious parties may bolt the coalition and the Government might fall. If they can’t arrive at a compromise then Kadima and IB might leave the coalition and the Government will fall. Many think that they are all bluffing and that last minute compromises will be announced before the Government goes into recess at the end of July.

Since Israel’s founding, the minority religious parties have been blackmailing the Governments, that have all been coalitions due to the electoral system in Israel. Now with a wide range coalition, the largest in Israel’s history, Netanyahu has an historic chance of reversing that trend. Let us return to full conscription, where haredim and Arabs will serve the country, but each in their own way. To those who resent the pressure of the religious elements among the settlers in Judea and Samaria and regard that as another source of division within Israel, they should however remember that there is a huge difference between the haredim who do not support the state and refuse to serve in the military and the settlers who are militant Zionists. However, once religious extremists try to determine the policies of the State then something is wrong, it was never meant to be that way.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.