Not a national interest
Op-ed: Recruiting all haredim to IDF just for the principle of the matter would be a huge mistake
Published: 01.30.13, 11:20 / Israel Opinion
Yesh Atid brought with it a new spirit in its seemingly genuine aspiration to effect change and by focusing on the more important issues. However, it seems that the solutions it offers for each of these issues are slightly off the mark. From a methodological perspective, the party's platform fails to name the most important stage on the path to resolving these issues: Defining national interest. National interest is not a slogan like "universal draft"; rather; it is an analysis which proves that the benefit of a certain act significantly outweighs its cost.
The first matter on Yesh Atid's agenda is "equal share of the burden." It should be noted right from the start that an equal share of the burden among the various segments of society will never exist. You cannot compare the burden of serving in a non-combat unit with the burden of serving in a combat unit, particularly when serving in a combat unit usually entails another 20 years of reserve duty. "Service for all" is not a national interest.
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The State has two interests: The first and most important interest is to increase the ultra-Orthodox community's participation in the job market. This can be achieved simply by deciding that the State will stop funding a yeshiva student as soon as he completes three years of studies. The "Torato Emunato" ("Torah is his profession") arrangement will not last more than mandatory army service. This will significantly reduce the amount of state funds allocated to the yeshivas; at the age of 21 yeshiva students will have to seek employment because they will no longer be eligible for government stipends; and many haredim will prefer to serve in the IDF due to the benefits former soldiers receive and because some of them will realize that the army can prepare them better for life.
This solution will secure the most crucial national interest without leading to friction with the haredi population. Furthermore, it is easy to enforce, because the State does not have to confront thousands of people and force them to go to the army. It simply stops funding them.
The second interest is to reduce inequality. This can be achieved only if the State significantly shortens reserve duty for combat soldiers, which would necessitate the creation of additional regular army combat units. Therefore, recruiting more yeshiva students to the army would serve the national interest only if most of them join combat units, such as the Nahal Haredi. Enlisting all haredim just for the "principle of the matter" may create expensive recruitment tracks, and the benefit of these tracks would not outweigh their cost. This would also do nothing to ease the real burden.
According to Yesh Atid's proposal, the army will recruit the people it needs, and the rest will be required to join the National Service program. This, in my opinion, is the biggest mistake. National Service is a blessed program, and those who volunteer for it should be commended, but it must not be turned into another sort of compulsory service.
First of all, because democratic countries do not recruit 18 year olds by force to work in hospitals or with the elderly. Forced recruitment is justified only if there is an existential need for it. Secondly, since the haredim and Arabs will not agree to this arrangement, expensive mechanisms will have to be set up in order to enforce it. In addition, the output of such unmotivated people will be much lower than their cost, and employing them in the framework of the National Service would hurt those who are actually interested in these jobs – and their cost would not be that much higher.
Giora Eiland is a retired IDF major-general and former head of the National Security Council