Professor Yagil Levy of the Open University in Israel discusses the Charedi draft, and an alternative direction on Iran.
You have claimed that the religious community has a growing amount of influence in the Israeli military - why is this a negative thing? Does it impair the army’s operational capabilities, and in what ways?
There is nothing wrong in the growing presence of religious soldiers in the IDF. The problem is with the attempts of the soldiers’ leadership to impair the military’s autonomy in several areas, such as: exclusion of women from many roles in field units, the expansion of the role of military chaplains - from the traditional role of providing religious services to the religious socialization of secular soldiers, and many instances in which religious solders refused, or threatened to refuse, to carry out orders to evacuate settlements in the West Bank.
Given the disproportionate number of national religious soldiers in combat units, and your claims of growing religious influence on the military ethos, how do you propose that the IDF separates religion from its culture?
The IDF should retain its universalist ethos, rather than adopting a religious format. As part of this, the IDF should limit the space of freedom of religious’ enlistees to invoke their religious beliefs to avoid missions or service with women. Crucial in this regard is to distance rabbis from any influence within the military. On chain of command should govern the military.
Is it worth drafting Charedi men? What benefits would the army gain from doing so, and how would they integrate into an entirely different world to the one they are used to?
Drafting Charedim is necessary in limited numbers. However, from the IDF’s perspective, their draft (to the military or alternative civil service) is needed to legitimize the entire draft system by imposing an equal burden. In other words, the Charedim’s service is necessary to justify the conscription of those whose service the IDF really needs. Furthermore, Charedim’s service will inevitably increase cultural tensions within the ranks and increase exclusion of women.
The concept of national service is not welcomed by ultra-Orthodox leadership, but are there some - perhaps younger members of that community - who would embrace national service? After all, the IDF does offer the opportunity to combine Torah study and military service.
It is possible to craft a compromise between the secular politicians and the Charedi leadership over the gradual and limited integration of Charedim in the military. Nevertheless, the main challenge is to integrate this group into the labor market, and therefore to ease the restrictions of military service which today prevent the Charedim from going to work because of the “torato omanuto” [one for whom Torah study is his primary occupation] arrangement.
“Draft-dodging” is a phenomenon that occurs across all areas of Israeli society, not just among the ultra-Orthodox, wouldn’t changing the IDF into a professional army, with enlistment only by those who wish to join, solve this problem?
Abolition of the draft may solve the legitimation problem entailed in unequal distribution of the military burden but create new ones. A professional army is largely staffed by soldiers from lower classes and nationalist groups; in other words, a professional army is a more conservative one and it is less likely that antiwar protest will spring from the ranks. Furthermore, if the deployment of the army is controversial, the government may fill the ranks by offering financial rewards to potential enlistees rather than by attempting to legitimize the policy.
You wrote recently that Israel could end its threats of attacking Iran, and instead re-launch a peace initiative with the Palestinians, based on the Saudi Initiative. How would this solve the threat of a nuclear Iran?
My proposal was to offer a broad equation: to promote a peaceful agenda with the Arabs in line with the neglected Saudi peace initiative together with encouraging the negotiations with Iran to reach a compromise on the nuclear issue. This expanded equation may push Iran to justify its abandonment of its nuclear program by presenting Israel’s flexibility and the gains for the Palestinians and Syrians that this flexibility breeds as a result of Iran’s maneuvers.