Tuesday September 30, 2014
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30.09.2014
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Once again, AG blocks bill giving preference to Israelis who serve
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Dan Margalit

Distinction, or discrimination?

There is an element of danger in the bill submitted recently by MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Beytenu), seeking to grant preference to Israelis who serve in the Israel Defense Forces and national service programs over those who don't serve -- the indifferent, the lazy or the ideological draft dodgers. This bill is dangerous because it could be used to legally bring back the old norm of nepotism and political appointments of relatives and associates. The political appointments that were rampant in Likud and Labor primaries will suddenly seem like child's play in comparison to what this law could bring about.

But the risk does not outweigh the basic logic and justice inherent in this proposal. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation was right to submit this bill to the Knesset for approval with the addition of restrictions and enforceable obstacles. Because those who spent three years with their platoon on the arid Negev sand or atop the freezing Mount Hermon deserve to get the first available warm beds at the dorms, just like they deserve the first available spots at the universities and the first available jobs at the postal service. (Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya founder Uriel Reichman instituted a successful affirmative action program at the school which prefers former combat soldiers -- all under professional supervision.)

Leaning on the opinion of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, opponents of the bill have argued that though they advocate rewarding service, it should not come at the expense of Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Israelis who do not serve. To make this argument is to feign naïveté. Preference is the pleasant flipside of discrimination (Levin's proposal talks about remedying discrimination, not causing it). Therefore, preference is certainly justified, but should be doled out with great care and under constant supervision.

The way to do that is, for example, to ensure that the gap between the criteria required of people who served and the criteria required of haredim and Arabs isn't too significant. We don't want to return to the days when, like in that old joke, the stutterer claimed that he didn't get the broadcasting job at Israel Radio because he didn't belong to the right political party.

Any time an army veteran is given preference over someone who didn't serve in adherence with the so-called Levin law, it should be recorded in the individual's records and reviewed by a public committee comprising presidents of local courts (and the committee members will only be allowed to serve for no longer than three years).

The opponents of the proposal raise a legitimate concern -- that the haredi or Arab person competing against Israelis who completed some kind of service were never given the opportunity to serve in the first place. That is true. Therefore, the law must include a clause that defines anyone who showed a desire to serve but was rejected should also enjoy preference.

There is another aspect to all this: The law will encourage young haredim and Arabs to enlist or find work in national service programs. It will also serve to curb the hostility that is rampant in the haredi and Arab communities against service in the IDF or national service programs. After all, service can be explained as insurance for the future -- an argument that will likely be well received in those communities.

There is still much concern that the law will not be approved. It does have a guaranteed majority in the Knesset, but the coalition could back down in fear of upsetting the ultra-Orthodox parties. The Levin law could fall victim to politics.

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