Uri Avnery's Column 

`Equal burden` - a disaster for the IDF

Appeared as oped in Haaretz Hebrew

I swore allegiance to the army upon its foundation, in the middle of the War of Independence. I served in Samson`s Foxes, the mother of all Israeli commando units. We were an Elite unit (at least in our own eyes). We hated evaders, especially the pencil pushers in spotless uniforms who sat at offices in the rear.

I wrote the above preface so that my next sentence would be correctly understood: I am against equality of the burden![*] I object to the Haredi military service on practical as well as moral grounds.

Morally: we must recognize the uniqueness of the Orthodox community. It is different from all other sectors among our people. Some might say that they are another people altogether. Like the Arab citizens. Perhaps even more so. No officer is eager to recruit the Arab citizens. The very idea of arming the Arab youths and providing them with military training gives the army the creeps. The idea of mobilizing the Haredim is no less absurd, though for other reasons.

The Haredi community objected to Zionism since the time of Herzl, for deep reasons of faith. Also in Israel, this community lives in a self-imposed closure and isolation, as did Jews abroad for most of their history. Military service would mean that they are required to send their youths, their next generation, to spend three years in the close company of Israeli Gentiles, of boys who are regulars at the pubs of Tel Aviv and of loose young women (Fritzes, in the Haredi Yiddish parlance). From their point of view, this is far worse than being forced to consume pork. The Rabbis are quite right when they assert that after military service their youths will be lost to them, no longer fit to be members of the Haredi community.

The proposal to replace military service with civilian service is inherently wrong, too. If implemeted, the expenses will be enormous, ordinary workers will be harmed and the benefits will be meagre. And, most importantly, it would not be an equal burden. It just must be recognized that this is a special community, different in every respect, entitled to life without being bothered by the state. And on the other hand, also without being financed by the state.

I am a devout atheist. I stand for total separation between religion and state. I hate religious parties, no matter what their religious affiliation is. But that does not stop me from feeling empathy for people of different beliefs. I also despise politicians who race to power by fanning the flames of hatred for the religious.

And in practical terms: It would be disastrous to the IDF. Recruiting the Haredim would fill the ranks of the army with tens of thousands of soldiers who hate the army and all it stands for. These soldiers would invariably obey the orders of the Rabbis, and refuse to obey their commanding officers when these contradict the Rabbis` orders. Many of them would spend their period of service period in Military Prison 6. Trying to force masses of Hardim to perform an equal (truly equal) service would lead to mass riots whose end no one could predict.

The IDF does not need these soldiers. I know officers who look forward with great anxiety to their mobilization. If, God forbid, they are really recruited, they would completely change the character of the army. And the idea now mooted, of establishing special camps with Haredi units - with their own rabbis and yeshiva seminaries and which would be out of bounds to all women - is a true nightmare. Clearly, equal burden would further inflate the already bloated defense budget .

There is a simple solution to the problem of equal burden: put an end to the entire outdated idea of conscription. The best armies in the world have already dispensed with it, in favor of a professional volunteer army. Nowadays, a battle is no longer a clash of two great human masses, as were the battles of Waterloo and Borodino. A modern army is a professional body, making use of sophisticated equipment, which requires professionalism and long experience. The larger and inflated an army is, the less effective it is.

There were times when compulsory service was a Progressive ideal. There were times when left-wing people regarded it as a safeguard against autocratic rulers using the army against the people. Over here, conscription was part of the collective heritage of Socialist Zionism. Those days are long gone. Sooner or later, Israel will also have to go over to an army based on volunteering and professionalism. And the sooner the better.

Some will be surprised about my concern for the IDF. I used to sympathize with Israel`s army, until it had become the occupation`s police. I`m sure that the occupation will eventually end and that the State of Israel would live in peace and friendship with the State of Palestine which will be established at its side. But just like the European countries which live in perfect peace with each other after centuries of warfare, also in the future Israel would need an army - a small, well-trained, efficient and professional one.

[*] Equal Burden refers to the demand of drafting members of the Haredi (Ultra-Orthdox) community into the IDF and abolish the exemption from military service which they have enjoyed throughout Israeli history. This issue gained prominence since the January general elections, because two major political parties - Ya`ir Lapid`s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) and Naftali Bennet`s Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) have made An Equal Burden into the number one condition for their joining Netanyahu`s new governing coalition, giving this precedence over all other issues.