In many ways it's fair to say that the two people chosen to draft the law against draft-dodgers – Strategic Affairs Minister and former IDF chief of general staff Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon (Likud) and MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) – were formed in the same crucible. This is the crucible of the Sayeret, the IDF's elite counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering unit, and its graduates also include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
But where will they take the Plesner report, which the Likud party approved on Sunday after the prime minister's dithering on the matter, in terms of its mandate to draft Israeli Arabs?
Minister Without Portfolio Ze’ev Binyamin (Benny) Begin (Likud) – along with Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz – raised a point of principle and ethics yesterday, saying it was not obvious that a country had the right to impose national service on its citizens. It is generally accepted that only military service can be made compulsory. However, when it comes to the vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox sector and the entire Arab sector, the working assumption is that they will be drafted for non-military service.
This argument, even when it comes from esteemed individuals, doesn't hold water. If the state finally corrects the injustice of discriminating against most of its citizens in favor of haredim and Arabs, it won't force the latter to do national service. The state will notify them of their enlistment to the IDF, but will offer them the option – at their discretion – of alternative service that might involve caring for the sick, working in shelters and aiding those with special needs from their own communities. Please don't confuse this with coercion. This is full-fledged military enlistment that allows for exemptions, expressions of preference and leniencies.
Ya'alon and Plesner also have the public duty of preventing draft-dodging among secular Israelis. First of all, they must address the problem of IDF mental health officers who hand out service exemptions wholesale.
The IDF must draft more recruits and exempt only a few, and if it turns out that someone who was forced to wear a uniform committed suicide – well, unfortunately, that happens today as well, even with all the mental health exemptions. It is inconceivable that so many young recruits be allowed to dodge their service just because a few might not be able to hack it.
It is abundantly clear that this enlistment cannot happen in one fell swoop. The solution is as follows: A target date must be chosen (for example, Jan. 1, 2013) to begin drafting all 18-year-old would-be draft dodgers — Arab, haredi and secular alike.
The state will receive Arab and haredi draftees for a six-week basic training period. Afterward, using funds the government previously allocated for subsidizing yeshiva study, the government will allow those young haredi men who wish to do so to return to Torah study until the age of 22.
Young haredi men will not receive an exemption, but rather a deferral of service. This was the procedure in the past, enabling those who wanted to study toward an academic degree first to fulfill their service obligations at a later date. The ultra-Orthodoxy will study at their yeshivas for four years, minus a few weeks, and will be required to report to their assigned base for duty once every two weeks. At this point, the revolution should take on a life of its own. It will also be relatively inexpensive.
This will afford the authorities the time they need – up to four years – to draft everyone and to encourage many who are already in the IDF to remain in the army.
It's possible this proposal will bring about the necessary change, and that the inevitable conflict with the haredim will stop short of turning into a massive political war.