The Israeli army brass was troubled on Tuesday, very troubled. The confusion surrounding the issue of drafting yeshiva students has left us with two bad options at this point: Maintaining the existing discrimination or tasking the Israel Defense Forces with the massive task of a universal draft.
The first bad option would perpetuate an "army of half the nation." Anyone familiar with draft forecasts over the next few years knows there will be fewer people serving and more people evading service, with these numbers increasing steadily each year. In a recent interview with Israel Hayom, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz warned against this unequal sharing of the burden and called for it to be balanced immediately. In private conversations, he and other high-ranking officers speak much more bluntly.
The second bad option would lead the IDF, starting on August 1, to recruit absolutely everyone. It would issue draft notices, send everyone to basic training and assign them to units. They'd have to come up with jobs for all the new recruits and prepare legal and disciplinary measures for those who fail to show up. It's a logistical headache. Besides, the IDF doesn't really need all this manpower. It's not just that haredi recruits need lots of special conditions. The supply of manpower is currently greater than the demand.
This is why the IDF is loudly calling for the obvious solution: national service. If someone has a problem with the name, we can call it something else, like civil service, or Israeli, or community service. The principle is that there is some type of service, that no one is shirking their duty or appearing to do so, but that everyone contributes to society. Every person who holds a blue Israeli identity card should serve his or her country, according to his needs and abilities.
What does this mean? That if you are capable and the army needs you, you go to the army. Anyone who cannot serve in the military must do national service. The latter could mean helping doctors in hospitals or clinics, assisting teachers and preschool teachers, patrolling playgrounds at night or acting as road-safety officers. It is possible to find thousands of additional tasks that would help the community. Many of these can even be undertaken within one's own community. In this manner, haredim could stay closer to their own backyards, as could Arabs, and still contribute to their homeland and to themselves.
The rules would be apply to other draft dodgers as well, whether for medical or psychological causes. Whatever is stopping them from completing military drills should pose no impediment in the halls of a local hospital. The only people who merit a complete exemption are prodigies: a few hundred geniuses who are especially talented in their field, such as outstanding athletes who receive exemptions to represent the country in international competitions, as well as a handful of exceptional Torah scholars. Those receiving exemptions will be a small, select group, carefully chosen under tight monitoring.
This is also a good solution for all those who are not currently serving. It would erase the stain on one's resume and open up work opportunities previously reserved for those who had served. It would also send more people into the job market and increase economic productivity. This solution is also good for those who already do serve. They will stop feeling like suckers and will also be able to receive financial compensation for extra service. If national service requires a smaller time commitment than military service, the state will have to compensate soldiers for their extra time. In such cases, a minimum wage salary is certainly appropriate and reasonable.
Politically, it is expedient to impose these rules on the haredim, but Arabs must also be required to take part. Not only because Israel is a democracy, but also because it will make them — and all draft dodgers — more Israeli. It is for their benefit as well as ours.