The subject of national service has recently become a major political issue in Israel and not surprisingly has received a lot of local and international media coverage. Currently, the ultra-Orthodox Jews and most Israeli-Arabs are exempt from national service. However, the current situation does need to change, as half of Israel’s primary school children are either ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) or Arab, meaning that based on the current arrangement, in a number of years time, the recruitment numbers of the IDF will diminish considerably. A sensible policy of national service is required to avoid alienating both these communities.
Some ultra-Orthodox already serve in the Israeli military, mainly with the Nahal Haredi battalion. However, most ultra-Orthodox appear to be reluctant to serve in the Israeli military. A baffling statistic to many people outside Israel since one would expect religious people to be the most fervent in defending their nation.
The current Netanyahu led coalition needs to work with their ultra-Orthodox colleagues to improve the perception of the Israeli military among the ultra-Orthodox community. After all, if everyone decided to avoid military service, there would be no Israeli army to protect the Jewish state from its enemies endangering everything the ultra-Orthodox hold dear.
Obviously, the Israeli military is currently unprepared to accept 100,000 extra ultra-Orthodox recruits. So, the IDF should begin to gradually increase the number of recruits until the majority of the ultra-Orthodox community is serving in the Israeli military within a couple of decades. In time they may even become the most passionate defenders of the Jewish state.
To accommodate the ultra-Orthodox community, the Israeli military should meet their specific dietary requirements and their religious needs. Furthermore, a minority of ultra-Orthodox students and ultra-Orthodox women should be exempt from conscription.
If the Haredim want to serve in battalions which don’t have women, this does not constitute gender discrimination. After all, women are not allowed to serve in submarines and tanks in most armed forces.
A different approach is needed for the Arab community. It is not accurate to class all Israeli- Arabs as one monolithic group because men from the Druze and the tiny Circassian communities are already subject to mandatory conscription. There are also a small number of Bedouin and Christian volunteers in the Israeli military. The rest of the Israeli – Arab population should be subject to national service. National service can include serving as a fire fighter, medical responder and other forms of community service.
Since the vast majority of Muslim Arabs are reluctant (and probably would refuse) to serve in the Israeli military, they would have the option of serving their own communities. This solution would also satisfy the legitimate security concerns of the Israeli military.