Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sharing the burden

Making Sense out of the Sharing the Burden Issue in Israel

Photo courtesy of the Israel Defense Force Facebook page 
This is the first in a series of articles which will help explain one of the issues confronting Israeli society, where the burden of conscription falls to a great extent on the modern orthodox and secular members of Israeli society, to the almost near exclusion of the ultra orthodox community.

Israel, which has always been considered by the outside world to be an egalitarian society, is beginning to cope with some inner tensions and dissension as the issue of the inequality of the military service burden takes the limelight in mini yet tangible expressions of social discontent.  The summer of 2011 was known as the summer of discontent as tens of thousands of Israelis protested on the weekends over financial and economic disparities within society.  This summer, while the numbers of protesters is noticeably smaller, the issues on the protester’s agendas now include the near automatic deferment that a segment of the Israeli population receives from military conscription, a duty enforced upon the majority of Israelis aged 18 and above.

The deferred consist of two diverse communities within Israeli society: the so called ultra   orthodox and the country’s Arab citizens.

When the country was officially declared in May of 1948, an immediate state of emergency existed because the neighboring Arab countries attacked literally as the country was being founded, and military conscription was a matter of national and personal survival.  During Israel’s war of Independence, all able bodied Jewish citizens were enlisted.  In retrospect, some of the period’s most poignant photos show bearded and secular soldiers fighting side-by- side in their desperate and valiant military campaigns. 

Israel’s success in that war led to a lessening of tensions until the country’s second war for survival broke out in 1956.  Here again there was little difference in conscription rates, although there was a negligible number of ultra orthodox citizens who were granted military exemptions because they were yeshiva students.  At the time the subject of Israeli Arab conscription was a non starter, questions of dual loyalty put the issue beyond the realm of consideration.

By 1967, the ultra orthodox community through the growing political power of its elected representatives, started exercising latitude in claiming military service deferments, a process which continued unabated and literally (figuratively) snowballed.  

Today it is estimated that over 25% of the 18 – 21 year old population, the majority of which made up of the ultra orthodox – find a way to avoid the draft. And although there are indications that an increasing number of ultra orthodox do enlist, on a percentage basis, the trend keeping them out of military service is only growing.     

Needless to say, there are growing numbers of passive enlisted soldiers who are increasingly frustrated by what they see as a lack of fairness in sharing the military defense burden in this country.       

If you have an opinion and would like to share it with us, please feel free to comment on this blog.  A follow up article will present a different perspective on this many faceted issue. 

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