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The Haredi Draft Exemption is a Death Sentence For The State of Israel.

My first week in the IDF, sitting on base in the Michve Alon Hebrew course for new immigrants, we were told to read a massive sign in the middle of the base courtyard and describe our thoughts on it. The sign read: "עם בונה צבא בונה עם"

"The nation builds an army; the army builds a nation". This famous Israeli saying describes the basis of the ideological connection between the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and the army that allows us to live freely in it. This ideology is where we get the idea of the "People's Army".

This week's proposal of a new sweeping exemption for Hardei conscripts looks to dismantle this already wavering ideology at its core. The proposed bill looks to "regularize the status of yeshiva [religious academy] students (JPost)", essentially legally exempting Haredi men from the draft. This comes as the previous exemption bill (passed in 2014) expires after being ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2017 for violating the notion of equality between Israeli citizens. This bill is being pushed through by the Haredi party UTJ, even amidst the chaos of the judicial reforms, because if no exemption is put into law by the end of the month, the IDF will legally be forced to begin drafting Haredi men of draft age.

While it is doubtful that the IDF would be in any way successful at forcibly drafting these men, the notion that an estimated 200,000+ Israeli men would suddenly be categorized as criminals of the state is troubling, to say the least.

What may be even more troubling, however, is the unsustainability of a permanent Haredi exemption from military service. From a purely demographic standpoint, Haredim make up 13.5% of the Israeli population, with 18% of that being military-aged men. This is a number that is expected to double within the next two decades. The growth of this population group can in part be attributed to the gradual decline of enlistment amongst men, with only 69% of all eligible Israeli men drafting in 2021, down from 75% in 2012.

For obvious reasons, the IDF does not publish specific statistics about where there is a lack of soldiers. However, anecdotally, the vast majority of combat soldiers will tell you that there is a basic lack of personnel in most units, with often barely enough soldiers to meet requirements on active duty. This strain is one that leads to mistakes and a general deterioration of the quality of security guaranteed to all Israeli citizens.

The outcome is clear: If current trends continue, Israel will, in time, face a lack of combat personnel that will constitute an existential threat to the security of the state. It is physically impossible to maintain a Jewish country surrounded by enemies without a well-staffed army. The choice of a section of Israeli society to avoid military service is a shortsighted one and one that ultimately may lead to its demise.

Why should Haredim enjoy all of the freedoms of living in a Jewish state without any responsibility to protect it?

These are the questions that strike at the core of the "People's Army" philosophy and why, with the passage of this bill, it may no longer ring true for many Israelis.

While it’s true that Haredim make up the majority of men exempt from military service, there is also a strong responsibility to be placed among the secular elite of Israeli society. A recent study ranked Tel Aviv 13th in total draftees for men, with that ranking heavily influenced by the lack of draftees from the highly affluent population of northern Tel Aviv. On top of this, high-income families are increasingly sending their sons into intelligence and cyber roles that produce lucrative future job opportunities, while poorer Israeli men are forced into combat roles that give them little advantage after their service.

All of this combined further damages the principle of "The People's Army" with two extremes of Israeli society meeting like a horseshoe in the middle to produce the same outcome: A lack of personnel, and units left with empty boots and no way to fill them.

In my service, I had the privilege of serving in the Haredi Batallion of the Paratroopers, a Batallion made up in part of Haredi Soldiers that chose to draft, even though they were guaranteed an exemption by the state.

This year, the Tomer Battalion of the Givati Brigade (One of three Haredi combat battalions) is slated to be closed, along with rumors of closing the same battalion I served in. These closures come as a result of the lack of numbers that these battalions are seeing from Haredi soldiers and a lack of engagement and encouragement from Haredi yeshivot. Where these battalions looked to be a step in the right direction in encouraging military service among the Haredi population, their closures now serve as symbols of an ever-deepening divide in society.

As a purely political issue, the call to action here is simple. Vote for the parties that are refusing to appease the Haredi parties in the Knesset. Be aware that the selfish policies that Haredi parties are proposing pose a real security risk to the state moving forward.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה לִבְנֵי־גָ֖ד וְלִבְנֵ֣י רְאוּבֵ֑ן הַאַֽחֵיכֶ֗ם יָבֹ֙אוּ֙ לַמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וְאַתֶּ֖ם תֵּ֥שְׁבוּ פֹֽה׃

"Moses replied to the Gadites and the Reubenites, 'Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?'"

(Bamidbar 32:6)


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