The Israeli government's recent decision to end the exemption to military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews has caused me to question Israel's future social cohesion and existence. While Israel's future has traditionally been threatened by its regional neighbors and armed anti-Israel groups, this decision has the potential to pave the way to civil war and self-induced disintegration. Indeed, even ultra-orthodox leaders say this decision could result in a civil war if it is enforced and their people conscripted. The idea of forced conscription is causing much anxiety among the religious right who see their way of life and rights infringed upon. But I don't think it's the conscriptions themselves that will cause the ultimate problem.

Suppose that the ultra-orthodox do serve and are able to attain military experience, what will that mean for the rest of Israel? Does secular Israel truly expect a large, demographically significant population with military experience to stay passive? These religious Jews would already feel persecuted against for being forced to serve in the military so can secular Israel expect them to not use their new found skills against those who they may not see as truly pious like themselves? And what of their support for the settlements that their kin are erecting on occupied land? The Israeli government has already steps to remove settlements and sometimes forcibly remove settlers, all of which agitates the religious right. What does the secular Jewish population believe will happen when they begin to arm and train people who share the beliefs of those same extremist settlers?

To expect a people that feels persecuted and looked down upon to simply turn their swords into ploughs while a government opposes that which it thinks is right borders on the insane. We would remiss to not expect a similar situation as we see in the United States with far-right militia groups. Only a fool arms his mistreated slave and expects him to continue to obey under the whip. Even worse, only a fool attacks and criticizes a person's way of life and then arms him.

Many secular Jews feel anger at the discrimination they feel as they are forced to serve their country while others earn an exemption through religious studying. This anger can manifest itself in military units when secular Jews bully or otherwise degrade their fellow religious comrades. The newly recruited pious soldiers would not soon forget this slight and would have greater reason to dislike the rest of society. To avoid this negative environment many new recruits may join the Nahal Haredi, an IDF unit composed of fundamentalist soldiers. On the surface this may seem like a win-win situation since the religious will still serve while better able to abide by their religious restrictions. But upon closer inspection I think this will prove to be an extremely dangerous Pandora’s box.

By having a unit composed primarily, if not exclusively, of a certain type of citizen you do nothing but reinforce their feeling of separateness and isolation. They are made to feel that their life and belief system is so different that they must be kept separate in order to be useful. Such a unit also breeds a sense of unity among only the religious right at the expense of a sense of solidarity with the rest of society. If violence between the secular and non-secular portions of Israel were to erupt, which side would a fundamentalist unit side with? There is no reason to expect that the Nahal Haredi would not rise to the defense of their pious brethren and form a nucleus around which others like them would congregate around. This nucleus would be a ready made leadership and training apparatus from which they could prepare for and execute a conflict with the rest of society.

The existence of this unit and the ending of the service exemption seems to me to be a very dangerous and naïve thing. The government is simply trading a lesser evil, a disgruntled population that dislikes either bearing the burden of military service or the social stigma of not having to, for the far greater evil of having a trained minority which does not conform to contemporary social beliefs and feels victimized. The existing social unrest in Israel – the protests by both sides, settler evictions, etc – should be incentive enough for the government to tread very softly and not further alienate people. One would think having enemies outside the gates is enough without having enemies inside them as well.

10/05/2013 10:40

Great blog, love the template.


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