To a small group of the reported hundreds of thousands of haredi protesters that demonstrated in the streets of Jerusalem this week, the prospect of a law drafting haredim into military service is no different than what the Nazis subjected Jews to in the Holocaust. That a thinking person could even compare the two is very troubling and shows just how far some in the haredi camp are from reasoned thinking on the issue. These fringe elements are clearly in the wrong.
Even without the radical views of a small group of the demonstrators, however, the massive protest shows a deep distrust of the Israeli government and its institutions by a growing group of citizens. They simply want to preserve the status quo and aren’t interested in any effort to “equalize the burden” of defending Israel.
Military service is considered a rite of passage for a majority of Israelis. With the exception of the existence of small haredi units in the Israel Defense Forces, the wholesale exemptions granted to the haredi community for the past 65 years seems to most to be an unacceptable state-sanctioned exceptionalism. According to that view, a military draft of haredim makes sense and goes hand in hand with haredi efforts to achieve political representation and to benefit from governmental largesse.
But even that argument can be taken too far. For example, some supporters of the bill, which last month passed a critical legislative committee and is expected to soon pass the full Knesset, tend to blame haredim for all of Israel’s problems. That’s nonsense. Many haredim play an active, positive role in the life of the state, just as many are willing enlist in the IDF. But the notion that a certain segment of the Jewish state’s population is not shouldering all its responsibilities remains a problem.
The bill under consideration is designed to address that issue, even if it will not penalize haredi draft dodgers until 2017. The hope is that during a multiyear transition period, the haredi draft will go from being viewed as evil incarnate to something closer to a duty to defend one’s family and home.
In order for Israel to function as an integrated society, all segments of that society need to make the same effort to work for the greater good. To the extent that the haredi draft bill is meant to bring the haredim into Israeli society’s mainstream, we support it.