Israel’s governing coalition narrowly avoided collapse this past weekend over the objections of ḥaredi members to legislation that would increase the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews serving in the IDF. Yet the underlying problem is more widespread than that. Currently, notes Yoaz Hendel, only 50 percent of young Israelis enter the military:
There are countless draft dodgers [on] the left and on the right. And there are two groups which the state of Israel has failed to deal with from the very beginning: the Ḥaredim and the Arabs. [However], ḥaredi society has been undergoing a revolution in recent years. About half of the men work [rather than studying full-time]. More and more pursue higher education and thereafter join the labor market. Thousands of Ḥaredim also enlist every year. The reasons—mainly financial—aren’t all that important. The important thing is that, eventually, the integration process will be completed. The state has only two options in this context: to encourage it or to get in the way.
There is no, and there will be no, political solution to the problem. . . . The solution must come in an indirect manner. [The same is true for] Arab society. Generous benefits for anyone who serves in the army, . . . while expanding [opportunities for] national service, [is the best way forward]. . . .
Beyond the benefits, the national-service option should be expanded. ZAKA [a ḥaredi-run organization that responds to terror attacks], United Hatzoloh [an ambulance service], soup kitchens—ḥaredi society excels in such charitable activities, and any such organization can be regulated and incorporated into the national-service program. The hours required can be fixed by law, and ḥaredim can participate alongside their yeshiva studies. The same applies to Arab society: Arabs can and do serve in the fire and rescue services, in the police, or as teaching assistants in schools—and this service should be recognized.
Israel doesn’t need more soldiers, but it must encourage the ḥaredi integration process—not through laws that will be hobbled by political maneuvering but through carrots. Moreover, Israel must create a new generation of Israeli Arabs who define themselves as such and are interested in Israelization rather than [adapting] a Palestinian identity, which fosters separatism and support for terror.