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How Charedi draftees affect the military

by Shmuel Rosner

August 20, 2012 | 1:20 pm

Professor Yagil Levy

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.  ‎

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