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Israel: Trading one demographic time-bomb for another? Part 2

Jeopardizing the internal security of Israel

The notion of the Haredi segment of the Israeli population as a time-bomb struck me during the onset of COVID-19 in Israel when I saw and read about the Haredi defying the emergency safety procedures mandated on medical grounds to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Haredi made quite a disruptive show of it and refused to comply with the emergency mandate. Consequently, they undoubtedly facilitated the spread of the virus and caused death both within and without their communities.

These are the people whose religion informs them that to save the life of one human being is to save humanity.

And while I was reflecting on these facts, I wondered what would have happened if Israel had been attacked by one of its neighboring enemies while this was happening?

Well, there we would have the IDF fighting at the front while the Haredi went about spreading the virus at will and infecting their fellow citizens  potentially including Israeli military personnel .

Come to think of it again, why would the Haredi not be at the front as part of the army fighting the enemy?

So who are the Haredi? A fifth column one of whose time-bombs exploded when the COVID-19 virus hit Israel while more may reasonably be expected to explode again in the future when they will choose to ignore directions, mandates and orders  critically important to the well-being of  the general population, that happen to not suit them on their religious grounds.

The historical path to the present

Ben-Gurion granted special privileges to the yeshiva students and to their teachers.

After realizing his mistake in granting these privileges, most regrettably he did not correct his mistake which created the inequitable and dangerous situation.

As Ben-Gurion put it, “the yeshiva students were sacrificing themselves for the study of the Torah while other Jewish youth were [and continue to] literally laying down their lives in defense of the state.”

In the 1970s, Prime Minister Menachem Begin ignored Ben-Gurion’s admission of his mistake and compounded the problem when he declared that “the “[full time] Torah study is [the Haredi] occupation.”

In the result, providing the kinds of funding required to finance the yeshiva system to meet the needs of the fast expanding community became the marching orders of his and of the successive governments right up to and including the 2015 Netanyahu government.

These privileges and their core religious beliefs keep them from enlisting or being drafted to the IDF and demand of them to marshal all their strength to fight the military compulsory draft of their members.

The Supreme Court of Israel struck down the law exempting the Haredi from military service as being discriminatory and inequitable and since then the Knesset has been having a hard time trying to put together a new legislative scheme that would be acceptable to the Haredi members of the government, to the other Israelis and to the Court.

On the political front, clearly Likud which depends on the religious political parties including those representing the Haredi interests to form coalition governments has not been keen to come up with a risky formula that would alienate their coalition partners while other segments of the Knesset want and demand that the Haredi serve in the military in the same way as the rest of the Jewish population.

In the meantime, the Haredi resort to massive rioting to fight against the military draft. The last one I recall occurred in July 2019 when the arrest of a Haredi woman who refused to attend the IDF conscription office as required, if only to declare that she could not serve for religious reasons, triggered rioting by hundreds of Haredi youth who shut down parts of Jerusalem and of Route 443 highway.

A month later in August of 2019, while the Haredi enrollment had somewhat increased, Eda Ha’Haredit anti-Zionist group within the Haredi movement proceeded to file a complaint against the State of Israel, of all places, at the United Nations’ Jerusalem office (Office), an organization not particularly known to be well disposed towards Israel.

The letter of complaint delivered to the head of the Office accuses Israel “of committing illegal acts by obliging the young Orthodox to enlist in the army of extermination [of Judaism]”.

The letter further accuses “the Zionist power of oppressing the Orthodox population and breaching its freedom of religion, contrary to the Geneva Convention.”

Finally, it demands the UN to intervene on an urgent basis against the government of Israel, for her serious breaches of international law…” (These excerpts are quoted from the letter were originally translated into French and subsequently translated back into English by the writer.)

Most regrettably, I have been unable to follow the matter to its final outcome although the outcome would not undermine the validity of my argument.

The figures I have date back to 2019 and to prior years. Overall, the proportion of Haredi youth who enlisted in the IDF or alternatively in the National Civil Service  was roughly 30 percent of each cohort of eligible draftees. This rate is 5% higher than that of 2016, and this percentage has been said to have been going higher every year.

According to the IDF records, in numerical cumulative terms, during the 10-year period between 2007 and 2017 the number of eligible Haredi soldiers went from 270 to 3675 at a rate of 340 (rounded to the closes decimal) per year.

In 2017 their numbers in active IDF service totaled 7066, although it has been suggested that the IDF has been somewhat cheating in their numbers as the figures are computed by counting a number of religious recruits as Haredi. And as a matter of fact at some point since then, the IDF did admit something to the effect that it had used a somewhat generous inclusive criteria in identifying the Haredi recruits.

Be as it may, the number of Haredi male conscripts remains lower than the target stipulated by law which prescribes that the annual conscription rate shall not be less than 3,300 per year. So far in 2019, the percentage of Haredi who have served in the IDF is 31% compared to 85%  of the “secular” population.

In this regard, it should be pointed out that due to the considerable investment required to bring the Haredi up to scratch as well as to accommodate their specific demands based on their religious practices, the IDF has not been particularly enthusiastic to make this investment.

In the meantime, the IDF

a) struggled to remedy the shortage of personnel created by the government’s decision to cut the length of mandatory military service for men from three years to two years and eight months, and proposal to further reduce service to 30 months beginning in 2020 and

b) launched a new initiative to address the shortage of soldiers who elect to go into combat service by sending combat soldiers and officers into local pubs, particularly those in the big cities, to encourage their youthful patrons to enlist in front line combat units.

Finally, Dr. Asaf Malachi  of IDI, who in 2019 studied the Haredi National Civic Service program offered as an alternative to military service and as a means of helping the integration of the Haredi youth, concluded that the program is failing  “at meeting its quantitative, economic and social goals” and that “over the past five years the number of Haredi volunteers …has dropped by two-thirds.”

I have been unable to follow up on these matters and figures since the last quarter of 2019.

National security and that of the citizens

Despite some positive socio-economic and cultural developments concerning the Haredi, the fact of the matter is that the Haredi population is expected to climb from the current 14% to 25% of Israeli population, within merely 18 years from now, in 2040.

Surely, when Israel needs and will need all its able bodied men to be ready and able to defend the country and secure the safety of its citizens, a substantial segment of the the Haredi communities, which in turn amount to a substantial segment of the population will not be willing let alone ready and able, to share the duty of their “secular” Jewish compatriots.

In the meantime, while the IDF  fights the enemies, the Haredi will feel free and entitled to riot about IDF’s decisions concerning them and to ignore critically important domestic requirements that do not accord with their religious beliefs or suit them otherwise.

I submit that the generous treatment of the Haredi in Israel has been one of the two biggest political blunders in the modern history of Israel, the other one being Prime Minister Rabin’s Oslo Accords.

In the next and last segment I propose to examine the situation in the context of democracy and politics.

About the Author
Doğan Akman immigrated to Canada with his family. In Canada, he taught university in sociology-criminology and social welfare policy and published articles in criminology journals After a stint as a Judge of the Provincial Court (criminal and family divisions) of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, he joined the Federal Department of Justice as a Crown prosecutor, and then moved over to the to civil litigation branch . Since his retirement he has published articles in Sephardic Horizons and e-Sefarad and in an anthology edited by Rifat Bali titled "This is My New Homeland" published in Istanbul.
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