If it weren't so sad, the draft brouhaha would be the greatest show in town. It is a masquerade ball, a tragicomedy in which each actor says the complete opposite of what he really wants.
The main actor, the IDF, is practically invisible. He doesn't dare speak the truth, which happens to be terribly politically incorrect. The truth is that the IDF really does not want the Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox). Not because they are not good people: Simply because as it is, the army has too much manpower. The last thing it needs is to deal with tens of thousands of new recruits with special dietary requirements and the like for which the army is unprepared. Two separate committees (one appointed by the head of the IDF's General Headquarters) the Ben Basat Committee and the Shefer Committee have already studied the issue and recommended reducing conscription. But to tell the truth to the feminists demanding to draft women into combat units and to the "pushovers" demanding a full-scale draft for the Haredim would force the IDF top brass to exercise a rare character trait: courage on public issues.
The second actor in our tragicomedy is the bearer of the torch of hatred for the Haredim. This actor and his like-minded supporters were never great fans of army service. The last thing that Yair Lapid wants is for the Religious Zionist dominance in combat units to be matched by Haredi dominance in the computer units of the Air Force and Navy. The outburst of patriotism that suddenly exploded onto the scene reflects political expedience and has nothing to do with ethics or social or national values.
The third actor, Kadimah, and the fourth, the Likud, are dragged into the play for similar reasons. The supporting cast: the media, the New Israel Fund and its plethora of organizations didn't think it was hot enough this summer. They kindled the cyclical bonfire of Haredi hatred in the Israeli forest. Now they are all dancing around the flames. Who has time to deal with minor issues like Syria? Or Iran?
The only actors who truly want the Haredim to enlist are the majority of Haredi young men. They, like most people, are not capable of learning throughout the day and night. They would prefer to enter the workforce, but their establishment and the State establishment do not allow them to do so. So in our theatre of the absurd, the Haredim wear the mask of those who do not want to enlist.
At the commencement ceremony recently held for the accounting graduates at the Kiryat Ono College, department head Yaron Zelicha addressed the many Haredim who had successfully completed their degrees. He told them that the Haredim had not only scored better than the accounting graduates in other colleges, but their marks were even higher than those of their secular counterparts.
The real challenge facing Israel is not integrating the Haredim into the army, but integrating them into the workforce. Europe is not collapsing because of a lack of soldiers, but because in the face of increasing longevity, the productive sector of their society is shrinking. The developed countries can no longer meet their commitments to their citizens and their economies are sliding into the abyss.
In Israel, most of the nurseries and kindergartens being opened are for Haredim. It is not the draft quotient in two decades that ought to concern us, but the integration into the workforce. If the State of Israel will continue to make it difficult for Haredim who did not serve in the army to work, it is actually cutting off the branch on which it sits.
One of the common gripes against the Haredim is that they are being supported by Israel's non-Haredi taxpayers. A culture that forgets the adage of our Sages, "Torah study is good with derech eretz (the way of the land, working) as laboring at both distances one from sin," (Pirkei Avot 2) becomes vulnerable to distortions and seemingly insoluble problems for its children.
Calling the Haredim parasites is way off the mark. In fact, just the opposite is true. It may raise an eyebrow or two, but scientific investigation shows that a Haredi child living in poverty today is the best investment for those aiming their poison arrows at him. That child will be feeding them when they are older.
The State of Israel must encourage the Haredim to enter the workforce, as the letter I received a few days ago demonstrates:
Shalom Moshe, I have been a financial advisor and CEO of a provident fund for many years. I often lecture on economic topics and have developed a very well-received presentation that shows the connection between longevity, birthrate and economy. The presentation reaches the same conclusion that you have written about, with examples from countries throughout the world. After much research on this topic, my unequivocal finding is that children are the strongest motor that drives an economy forward. Click here to see the Power Point presentation, about half in English
The government can encourage the Haredim to enter the workforce by taking the following steps:
1. Cut the connection between army service and integration into the work force. When we prohibit Israeli citizens from working, what we are really doing is preventing them from paying taxes. Instead, we require the workforce to pay them unnecessary stipends. The sanctions preventing the Haredim from work are much more punishing to the State than to the citizen.
2. Copy and expand the successful example of Yaron Zelicha at the Kiryat Ono College to other campuses. Positive action is already taking place to encourage this goal. The induction of Haredim into academic learning toward professions that Israel needs particularly professions in which the Haredi's Talmudic background gives them an advantage turns out to be not only possible but a sure way to success. Some Haredi elementary schools do not teach science and math. This is a problem that must be addressed, but experience has shown that the Haredim quickly close the gap and excel at their studies.
3. Creation of more academic courses for Haredim. Preferred funding for those institutions that integrate Haredim. This will also encourage the various colleges to compete for the Haredi student.
4. Tax breaks for employers who integrate Haredim into their workforce.
5. Public relations campaign to encourage employers to hire Haredim, much as is being done now to encourage employers to hire Arabs.
If we ignore all the political hype, the solution is clear and simple.