Op-ed: Court’s decision to strike down law allowing mass ultra-Orthodox exemptions from military service is an important milestone against political cynicism in which a minority repeatedly prevents State of Israel from being a slightly more decent and civilized country.
This is a day of celebration for most Israelis. It’s not that the problem has been resolved. It’s not that a new dawn of equality in sharing the burden of IDF service is about the break tomorrow morning. We still have a long way to go, a very long way.
ut the High Court ruling is an important milestone against the cynicism in which an ultra-Orthodox minority repeatedly prevents the State of Israel from being a slightly more decent and civilized country.
We should remember the affair began with an insignificant, tolerable exemption of a few hundred yeshiva students in the David Ben-Gurion era. But the exemption intensified. It went beyond any acceptable limit. The percentage of Haredim exempted from military service kept growing. It’s not that the process can’t be stopped. The previous government passed a law which began—just began—to deal with this disease and the damage it has caused.
Haredim outside IDF recruitment center. In the not-so-distant future, nearly 50 percent of Israelis will be exempted from military service (Photo: Ofer Amram)
The Haredi draft, also known as “equality in sharing the burden” of IDF service, is just part of a much bigger problem. Nearly one-quarter of first graders today belong to the Haredi sector. This means that in the not-so-distant future, they won’t enlist. If we add the Arab sector to the equation, the result is that nearly 50 percent of Israelis will be exempted from military service. That’s an intolerable situation.
What makes this whole issue even worse is the fact it’s part of a much more troubling package deal: those who don’t enlist also skip core curriculum studies, receive huge allowances and vanish from the labor market.
Things began changing in the previous government, but like with the Western Wall and conversion crises, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to give the Haredim everything, ignoring the fact that even if he didn’t give them anything—they would have no other option.
This is causing serious, gradual damage to the national interest. Instead of a democracy, we are getting a minocracy. There’s a majority both among the public and in the Knesset for equally sharing the burden of military service, for core studies, for encouraging integration into the labor market. But who cares about the majority and who cares about the national interest when concessions are being made without a second thought.
In a normal state of affairs, the High Court of Justice shouldn’t intervene. Overturning laws and overturning cabinet decisions should be used as an emergency weapon and only in rare cases. There have been too many times in which the High Court’s intervention was irritating and unnecessary. Not this time.
The ruling is justified for two reasons: First of all, because waiving an equal share of the civic duty is unconstitutional and undemocratic, and although we have gotten used to it, it crosses a red line. Second, unlike precedents in which the High Court ruled in favor of a minority while crushing the majority’s will, this time the High Court ruled in favor of the majority and became the public’s servant against political cynicism.
It’s unclear whether Tuesday’s ruling will lead to a change. The destructive coalition majority, in which Knesset members vote against their personal views, will likely persist. But the public aversion will grow accordingly. It joins the aversion over the conversion legislation empowering the Haredim and the decision to nix a planned egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.
All it takes right now is six or seven lawmakers from the Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu parties to do exactly what they promised their voters regarding these issues. They can erase the disgrace. They have to. The High Court ruling offers them another chance. For our sake, for the sake of the national interest, they should seize the opportunity. The ball is in their court.
A leading Jewish human rights organization has expressed its relief at the defeat of Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari – the Qatari candidate for the post of UNESCO Director General who was tainted by antisemitic links – urging at the same time that “now is not the time for democracies to abandon” the UN’s cultural, scientific and educational organization.
BUCHAREST, Romania (JTA) — When the roof of the Jewish State Theater collapsed during a 2014 snowstorm, its director reluctantly knew it was finally time to abandon the century-old building in this capital city..
Following years of neglect by authorities, the Bucharest Jewish community had fought for decades to keep the storied theater afloat. The Jewish State Theater had been a major cultural institution for Central European Jews prior to the Holocaust. Later, during communism, it was the Romanian Jewish community’s only independent institution.
Audrey Azoulay (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chose Audrey Azoulay, France’s former Minister of Culture, as their Director General on Friday.
UNESCO’s executive board voted 30 to 28 in favor of Azoulay, rejecting Qatar’s Hamad Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Kawari, who has been accused of anti-Semitism. Azoulay must still be approved by UNESCO’s 195 members when they meet in November. If accepted, she will be the second French head of the organization, the second woman, and the first Jewish director general of UNESCO.
I am a Catalan Jew. Even though I’ve been based in Chicago for more than a year now—I moved there, of course, for love—I’ve spent most of my life in lively and lovely Barcelona, a city in which antiquity and modernity walk gracefully hand in hand. Even so, work in Barcelona has been scarce and poorly paid since the Spanish financial crisis started in 2008. This ongoing event has contributed to the rise of the Catalan independence movement among other factors. I have witnessed first-hand how independentism went from being marginal to becoming central.
Dutch documentary about the beloved Israeli fiction writer, a cult favorite in Holland, opens at the 33rd Haifa Film Festival
It seems unlikely to have two Dutch filmmakers behind “Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story,” a documentary about the beloved Israeli writer and humorist, currently premiering at the 33rd Haifa Film Festival.
Yet it is their nationality that offers filmmakers Stephane Kaas and Rutger Lemm the ability to gaze lovingly and critically at Keret, known locally and internationally for his wry, humorous short stories and essays.
The “reconciliation” accord they reached in Cairo paves the way for creating a state within a state in the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian-sponsored deal does not require Hamas to dismantle its security forces and armed wing, Ezaddin Al-Qassam. Nor does the agreement require Hamas to lay down its weapons or stop amassing weapons and preparing for war.
This is a very comfortable situation for Hamas, which has effectively been absolved of any responsibility toward the civilian population. Hamas could not have hoped for a better deal. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be permitted to maintain its own security force, while Abbas’s government oversees civilian affairs and pays salaries to civil servants.
A sigh of relief was heard last week from the New York Times to many newspapers and media outlets around the world, even in Israel, accompanied by a sneer toward the political right: He’s not a Muslim! Wow. It turns out that the mass murder in Las Vegas was committed by “only” a lunatic, Stephen Paddock, and one doesn’t have to be a jihadist to carry out a merciless massacre.
Reporters continue scratching their heads about what President Trump meant when he spoke of the “calm before the storm” recently as he was hosting a dinner for military commanders and their spouses. It seems clear to me that he was sending a powerful message to North Korea and Iran: change your behavior now or prepare to face new but unspecified painful consequences.
Most know the name of Israel’s famed spy group. The Mossad (“The Institute”) has helped protect Israel since 1949. Until recent years, the head of the Mossad was a secret. I well remember interviewing Ariel Sharon in 1998 at his office in Tel Aviv. After going through a maze of metal detectors, we waited in an outer room. Soon, a man walked down a hallway and stood before an elevator. He smiled and got on the elevator.
The New York based Center for Jewish History (CJH) remains embroiled in controversy weeks after it has been revealed that the new CEO, David N. Myers is an active leader of the New Israel Fund, If Not Now, When, J Street and other organizations that are hostile to the State of Israel. While Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has Myers listed in their propaganda as an academic advisor, he claims that this is inaccurate. His writings reveal hostile-to-Israel viewpoints, including the affinity for boycotts of Israel and sympathy for the Palestinian “Nakba.”