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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

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy