The continued importance of mandatory military service

As a law student, I am often required to write papers expressing my opinion on one issue or another. These papers, inappropriately coined “position papers” have been defined as “an essay that presents an opinion about an issue, typically that of the author”.

Nonsense. If ever I wrote my own opinion I would undoubtedly receive a ‘fail’. What my lecturer really wants to hear is his opinion on the article. Well, why didn’t he say so in the first place? Really, they should be  called: “somebody-else’s-position papers”. In any event, last week I was forced to write such a paper and when I finished, I felt so frustrated with its content that I decided to write yet another “position paper”, however, this time, the position is my own.

The paper focused on two articles, one published in the early 90’s and the other published just a few months ago. The first article sought to brand the Israeli society as “a society made up of many rifts”. There are rifts due to ethnicity, social status, race, religion, ideology and, of course, the Arab-Israeli conflict. While the author presented these rifts in a negative sense, I choose to see them in a more positive light: Part of what makes Israeli society unique is its many rifts and shades, and the interaction between them.

The second article concentrated on two separate societies coexisting within Israeli culture – the civil society and the military society.

The question tasked to me in the assignment was: Do I think that the growing differences between these two societies will serve as yet another rift in Israeli society, to be added to the already growing pile?

In its early stages, the State of Israel was a “State in uniform”. The entire nation united around the army which occupied a central position in society. During those early years, the State provided for the majority of its citizens’ needs. Today, with a developed economy and a free market, more and more services are provided by the citizens themselves, causing less and less dependence on the state and the army.

The author posited that these changes, which can be demonstrated by the increased involvement of parents in military activities, and the gradual decrease in motivation to serve in the military, are causing a mounting divide between these two societies also suggesting that the military society may soon become passé.

Well then, is the army causing a rift in Israeli society? Should we abandon the mandatory draft?

I think not. Our army is the biggest asset we have. It is a source of national pride and, apart from the high-tech industry, may be the only component in our society that still “works”. Education is a joke, both in the schools and in the homes. (For example, this morning I saw a billboard which read: “but Daddy, you don’t throw soda cans on the floor at home?” The billboard was alluding to the carelessness with regard to the environment demonstrated by Israeli parents. How can we expect children to do any better when this is the example set by their parents and role-models?) However, as repeatedly pointed out in Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s book “Start-up Nation”, the mandatory army service that distinguishes Israeli society from other “Western” States serves as a training ground geared towards superiority, leadership, motivation and a tendency to set high goals and not be afraid to take risks. Not to mention the superior military and weapon systems produced by our army which are envied and sought after by nations across the globe.

So no, I don’t think that the military causes a rift in our society. On the contrary, the “melting pot” approach first adopted in the early stages of our State was aiming exactly in the right direction. How else will we ever succeed in overcoming the other already inevitable rifts that our society is made up of?

What else will connect the partner in the leading law firm, making a million shekels a year, with the kiosk owner who sells coffee in the lobby of his building?

When the two gentleman, from completely different backgrounds, leading completely different lives and possibly from different religions or nationalities, fight side-by-side in the battlefield, or share a cubicle in a military office (not by choice, but because it is their duty to do so), than you succeed in breaching at least one gap. Although one may be rich and the other poor, one Sephardi and the other Ashkenazi, while they don’t work in the same building, make the same salary or pray in the same synagogue, their families will meet for an annual barbecue on Yom Ha’atzmaut and they will dance at each other’s weddings and children’s Bar Mitzvas. They will meet up once a year for reserve duty and they will forget about the differences society and reality force between them, and they will laugh about nonsense and tell dirty jokes. Because that is what the army does – it breaches gaps, it does not create them.

About the Author
Yitz Hammer lives with his wife and two children in Netanya; He made aliyah from the U.S. in 2000, studied in Otniel Hesder Yeshiva and served in the Combat Engineering Corps; Yitzy is currently studying towards an LL.B. in Law and a B.A. in Government at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliah, where he works as a research assistant in the subject of Jewish Law; Yitz's interests include photography, history, international law, music and writing. Most recently, Yitzy has joined the ranks of StandWithUs, the pro-Israel education and advocacy organization, as a participant in their Israel Fellowship.