Drafting the Ultra-Orthodox: The Debate Returns

April 23 2019

As Benjamin Netanyahu works to form a governing coalition, he is expected to try to bring both Yisrael Beytenu—which strongly objects to the exemption from military service given to most Ḥaredim—and the two ḥaredi parties into his government. The negotiations, writes David M. Weinberg, will no doubt revive the controversy regarding this exemption. Over the past twenty years, many compromise proposals have been considered, and meanwhile ḥaredi enlistment has gradually increased, but no piece of legislation has managed to survive both the Knesset and the Supreme Court. Weinberg proposes a solution of his own:

Almost every yeshiva and kollel [institution of post-graduate talmudic study] in Israel operates on the same academic calendar. . . . The total vacation accrued, for all junior and senior kollel men, yeshiva boys, and yeshiva educators of all ranks and stripes [is] ten to eleven weeks annually. Ultra-Orthodox society calls this beyn ha-zmanim (between semesters).

At these times, you’ll find ḥaredi youth and ḥaredi families traveling the country, visiting its parks, shopping in its malls, swimming in its pools, and even occasionally traveling abroad. Doing normal vacation stuff. . . .

I say that the well-endowed-with-vacation Ḥaredim have an obligation to forgo at least some of their time “outside the tents of Torah” to share in the national burden. . . . It could work like this: for, say, five out of their ten weeks of vacation each year, ultra-Orthodox men would be drafted into specially-designed units that meet rigorous standards of kashrut and modesty—ranging from the all-ḥaredi Naḥal units to the national emergency medical service Magen David Adom, and from the army rabbinate to rescue services. . . .

Some Ḥaredim might have to miss out on the luxury of having a Passover seder at home or may find themselves spending Yom Kippur in an army hospital pushing wheelchairs, but that’s a small price to pay for national responsibility and unity. . . . Ḥaredim have the time and the ability to serve their country without egregiously cutting back on Torah study and without abandoning their unique way of life—if they truly care to share in the national-security burden.

This proposal upholds the belief that . . . Torah study should be allowed to flourish without restriction in the state of Israel, and simultaneously the belief that it is morally unacceptable that an entire class of Israeli citizens automatically be released from the burden of militarily defending the country.

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More about: Haredim, IDF, Israeli politics

 

A Better Syria Strategy Can Help Achieve the U.S. Goal of Countering Iran

While the Trump administration has reversed much of its predecessor’s effort to realign Washington with Tehran, and has effectively used sanctions to exert economic pressure on the Islamic Republic, Omar Hassino argues that these measures might not be enough:

Iran and its militias control more territory and natural resources in Syria and Iraq than before President Trump took office. . . . The U.S. should back the low-cost insurgency approach that has already shown potential in southwest Syria to bleed the Iranian forces and increase the costs of their expansion and [of Tehran’s] support for the Assad regime. It makes no sense that Iran can fund low-cost insurgencies to bleed American allies in the region, but the United States cannot counter with the same. The administration should also consider expanding support to the proxy forces that it currently works with—such as the Revolution Commandos near the [U.S.] al-Tanf garrison in southwest Syria—for the purpose of fighting and eliminating Iranian-backed militias. This limited escalation can curb Iranian expansion and put pressure on the Assad regime in the long term.

Furthermore, in this vein, the U.S. should empower peaceful Syrian civil-society groups and local councils operating outside Assad-regime control. Last year, the Trump administration eliminated assistance for stabilization in Syria, including funding going to secular anti-Assad civil-society groups that were also combating al-Qaeda’s ideology, as well as the Syrian [medical and civil-defense group known as] the White Helmets, before quickly [restoring] some of this funding. Yet the funding has still not completely been resumed, and if this administration takes an approach similar to its predecessor’s in relying on regional powers such as Turkey, these powers will instead fund groups aligned ideologically with Muslim Brotherhood. This is already happening in Idlib.

The United States must [also] jettison the Obama-era [strategy of establishing] “de-escalation zones.” These zones were from the start largely a Russian ruse to help the Assad regime conquer opposition areas, and they succeeded. Now that the regime controls most of Syria and Iranian proxies are dominant within the regime side, support for de-escalation is tantamount to support for Iranian expansion. The United States must [instead] prevent further expansion by the Assad regime and Iran in parts of the country that they still do not control.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy