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The War Within: Israel's Ultra-Orthodox by Yuval Elizur

The War Within: Israel's Ultra-Orthodox by Yuval Elizur

Author:Yuval Elizur [Elizur, Yuval]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: HIS022000, HIS019000, HIS000000, HIS037080
ISBN: 9781468310016
Publisher: Overlook
Published: 2014-02-12T00:00:00+00:00


8

The Soldiers of Israel or of God?

SIX THOUSAND MEN AND WOMEN, MOST OF THEM BELOW the age of thirty, 1 percent of the total Jewish population of Israel at that time, were killed in the war of 1948, when the state was established. About a similar number have fallen in wars and terror attacks since then. Yet the country is still besieged by the historic Arab and Persian enemies of the Jews and must depend on help from Jewry worldwide and its military alliance with the United States. Israel requires each young man and woman of eighteen to serve in the army for three years and then in the reserves. While the Druze and Circassians (Muslims of Russian descent who immigrated in the nineteenth century) as well as Bedouins serve the Israeli army, the six hundred thousand ultra-Orthodox Jews, who consider themselves more Jewish than all others, have been exempt from army service for sixty-four years and have threatened to revolt if their massive exemptions from the draft are not extended, or even if they are only amended.

The demand for a new conscription law arose from a ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court ordering an end to the blanket exemption for yeshiva students by July 31, 2012. After the Netanyahu government’s failure to negotiate a revision covering the haredim, this incendiary question brought down the government. Even with the end of the exemption tortuously making its way through the Knesset while the haredim try to mobilize against it, the army will need time to devise a plan to defuse this political bombshell while somehow incorporating several thousand young haredim in its ranks.

Many other religious youths already fulfill their military obligations with enthusiasm. They are the inheritors of the traditions of the religious Zionist pioneers and today compose an important youthful cohort of the officer corps in some of the best fighting units. They can be identified by the knitted skullcaps that they wear. They seek “a more Jewish army” in contradiction to the hopes of David Ben-Gurion, who aspired for a “people’s army” where all units would be equal with no separate ideology of its own. But what was originally a temporary exemption from army service granted to four hundred yeshiva students has become a national problem: more than half a million ultra-Orthodox youths do not serve in the army and also do not work, because taking a job would forfeit their exemption. Without some legislative intervention addressing the ultras’ special status, about one-quarter of all Israeli men reaching the age of eighteen by 2020 are estimated to be automatically exempt from army service.



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