The Right Approach to Bringing the Ultra-Orthodox into the IDF

Nov. 15 2017

Since the turn of the century, the number of Ḥaredim serving in the Israeli military has steadily increased—despite the repeated failures of legislative initiatives to conscript them en masse. Yonatan Branski examines the causes and effects of the increase, suggests strategies for increasing ḥaredi enlistment, and argues military service might be not the biggest obstacle but rather the key to improving relations between Ḥaredim and Israeli society at large. Most importantly, writes Branski, the state and the IDF must continue to respect the ultra-Orthodox desire to remain a group apart:

The fundamental assumption in Israeli society, the media, and many of the state institutions is that the Ḥaredim lag behind in terms of culture and values, and that their integration into Israeli society will bring them out of their current “darkness” into the “light” of the dominant Western liberal culture. This patronizing and elitist approach, which often hides behind false civility and political correctness, endangers the crucial process of the ḥaredi sector’s inclusion in the IDF, in Israeli society, and eventually, the country’s leadership. . . .

Throughout Israel’s history, military service has functioned as a social and cultural melting pot, primarily because serving together provides a deep common denominator that connects people of different backgrounds. . . . [But the] idea that the IDF should be a “melting pot” is one of the [main] reasons that the Haredim are opposed to military service. They are completely unwilling to assimilate into Israeli society and fear the inevitable cultural impact of living together in close quarters.

While so far the solution to this problem has been to create special units for Ḥaredim, participation in these units, while by no means encouraging assimilation, has nonetheless led recruits to develop an enhanced sense of citizenship and facilitated their economic integration. An example:

In their first months of service, ḥaredi soldiers in Battalion 97 are much less willing to participate in noncommissioned-officer courses or [regular] officer courses, which require extending their service, than are soldiers in the same battalion who come from the Religious Zionist sector.

The ḥaredi soldiers are [at first] focused on their own self-interest and are unwilling to make the personal sacrifice required by such courses. . . . [But], as time goes on, many of the ḥaredi soldiers change their perspective as they acquire a better understanding of the importance of making use of their abilities to contribute their share in the most fitting manner.

As the number of ḥaredi NCOs and officers who speak this ethical language increases, they will convey it to more and more of the ḥaredi soldiers under their command. From the earliest stages of the project to get Ḥaredim to serve in the IDF, it was clear that one of the most important keys to its success would be the cultivation of a cadre of outstanding ḥaredi NCOs and junior officers. This is a lengthy process, but the trend is gaining strength from year to year.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

More about: IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli society, Ultra-Orthodox


In Pursuing Peace with Saudi Arabia, Israel Must Demand Reciprocity and Keep the Palestinian Question off the Table

Nov. 22 2017

The recent, unprecedented interview given by the IDF chief of staff to a major Arabic news outlet has fed the growing enthusiasm in Israel about the prospects of a peace treaty and mutual recognition between Jerusalem and Riyadh. Mordechai Kedar urges level heads and caution, and puts forward ten principles that should guide any negotiations. Most importantly, he argues that the two countries normalize relations before coming to any agreements about the Palestinians. To this he adds:

The most basic rule in dealing with the Saudis and their friends is that Israel must not feel that it has to pay anything for peace. . . . If the Saudis want to live in peace with us, we will stretch out our hands to offer them peace in return. But that is all they will get. Israel [has] been a state for 70 years without peace with Saudi Arabia and can continue being a state for another 7,000 years without it. Any desire for a quick peace (as expressed in the disastrous slogan “Peace Now”) will raise the price of that peace. . . .

[As part of any agreement], Israel will recognize the House of Saud’s rule in Mecca and Medina—even though the family does not originate from the Hejaz [where the holy cities are located] but from the Najd highland—in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel’s right to Jerusalem as its historic and eternal capital city. Israel will recognize Saudi Arabia as an Islamic state in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel as the Jewish state or a state belonging to the Jewish people. . . .

Israel will not allow incitement against Saudi Arabia in its media. In return, the Saudis will not allow anti-Israel incitement in Saudi media. . . .

It is important to keep the Americans and Europeans away from the negotiating table, since they will not be party to the agreement and will not have to suffer the results of its not being honored—and since their interests are not necessarily those of Israel, especially when it comes to the speed at which the negotiations move forward. The Americans want to cut a deal, even a bad deal, and if they are allowed into the negotiation rooms, they will pressure Israel to give in, mainly on the Palestinian issue.

Read more at Israel National News

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia