Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Feiglin's Plan to Streamline the IDF

An Interview with Moshe Feiglin
By Sholom Ber Crombie
Translated by Michael Dobry

19 Menachem Av/July 26 Issue

During the week when the Netanyahu government approved the new legislation to draft the ultra-Orthodox into the army, we turned to the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Mr. Moshe Feiglin, chairman of the Likud Party's Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction, to hear about his proposals on the issue of compulsory military service, the concept of Jewish economics, his position on the rift between the Bayit Yehudi Party and the chareidi communities, and what the IDF should do to prevent the throwing of rocks at Jewish cars along the highways of Yehuda and Shomron.

(Issue #887, pgs. 62-65)

Without question, Knesset Member Moshe Feiglin is one of the most unique personalities to emerge in Israeli politics during the first six months of the current parliamentary term in Eretz Yisroel. After struggling and fighting for years to win a place in the leadership of the Likud Party, Feiglin succeeded in fulfilling his dream and was elected as a member of the Nineteenth Knesset. Many saw his election as a justification of his path, proving that you can attain a position of political leadership within a centrist party and wield significant influence. However, even those who do not share Feiglin's political beliefs look upon him as a steadfast ideologue, devoted to his objectives as he brings vital issues to the public forum, issues that have usually been relegated to the back burners.

Feiglin's unique line of thinking and the creative solutions he is proposing on every front have earned him a place of honor, not only as a parliamentarian and a legislator, but as a man of vision who has laid out an ideological path accompanied by effective action. Since his election to the Knesset, Feiglin has proposed numerous pieces of legislation on a variety of subjects: his original plan for military service, developing sensors to identify children left behind in vehicles, a call to separate Army Radio from the Ministry of Defense, and more. He usually takes unpopular fringe issues and transforms them into matters for discussion among all sectors of Israeli society.

We conducted this interview in the midst of the political storm created by Feiglin, after he came out publicly against Prime Minister Netanyahu and opposed party discipline on legislative proposals. As a result, he was removed from several of his Knesset committee appointments. However, a person such as Feiglin is not the type to despair over such punitive measures. A previously unknown political force, he founded the Zo Artzeinu movement and awoke an entire country in opposition to the Oslo Accords. He remained committed to his values, even if he paid a heavy personal price. From his vantage point, his steps are part of a long-distance sprint, as he plans for the long term - even the very long. He believes that the day will come when the path represented by faith in G-d will take control of the nation's leadership. As a result, he must pay a price today as he continues to fight for his principles.

Feiglin never pulls any punches with anyone. He has something to say about the judicial system in Eretz Yisroel, the state's political leadership, the leadership of his party, and even the leadership within the ultra-Orthodox sector. However, he is careful not to join the attacks on the chareidim - despite the fact that he is prepared to forgo ultra-Orthodox support for his bid to attain national leadership. When he has criticism to make, he does so in a respectable and equable manner.

During the last six months, it seems that the chareidi leadership has been quite pleased with Feiglin. He was not embarrassed to speak against secular studies in yeshivos, and when his friends in the Bayit Yehudi Party tried to force such studies upon the ultra-Orthodox, he claimed that "secular studies are a lot of nonsense." According to Feiglin, a Jewish state has no need for a ministry of education, and the responsibility should be returned to the citizenry. "We should move to a voucher system. The state should issue education vouchers, and as a father, I can choose where to use them. You can see how Jewish law recognizes a system of checks and balances in the free marketplace. A person cannot open a store next to another store, thereby depriving someone else of his livelihood. There is one exception where Torah encourages the wildest competition - and that's in the field of education. If an eighteen-year old melamed proves to be more successful than a sixty-year old educator with decades of tenure - the latter is gone. Secular studies, for example, it's a lot of nonsense."

However, the central issue that Feiglin is advancing is on the question of the military draft. According to Feiglin's proposals, compulsory IDF service should be halted, and the army should be transformed into a professional corps with soldiers who receive good salaries and benefits. Under such conditions, only young highly motivated recruits will serve in the army, similar to those who now choose to serve in frontline units. Feiglin claims that this will solve the problem of drafting the chareidim and serve the IDF's best interests, making it more effective and proficient, and even cost less to the taxpayers.

"It's quite clear to all of us that if all the ultra-Orthodox would show up tomorrow at the IDF enlistment centers, the army chief of staff would wave a white flag and beg to be relieved. It's simply incredible to see an entire country up in arms because of a demand for something that no one needs and no one really wants.

"Here are the real facts. In 2006, the Israel Defense Forces presented the following information to the Ben-Bassat Commission, appointed by the Defense Ministry to study the impact of mass conscription: About 23% of men obligated to serve in the IDF do not want to enlist. Another 18% drop out before finishing their military term.

"In practical terms, compulsory military services only applies to 59% of adult men in Eretz Yisroel. Furthermore, according to the Sheffer Commission Report, there are ten different official ways to shorten army duty, resulting in a majority of this 59% not serving a full three years in the IDF. In other words, in contrast to the philosophy of 'the people's army,' less than a third of able-bodied enlisted men carry their full share of the burden, and this doesn't take into account the fact that only a minority of these men are actually serving in the nation's fighting forces."

Is your proposal workable? Do you really think that it's possible in Eretz Yisroel to move toward the establishment of a professional army operating solely on a volunteer basis? 

This past month I formed a Knesset lobby for this proposal. There are members from all the parliamentary factions, from MK Rabbi Yisroel Eichler (Yahadut HaTorah) to MK David Tzur from Justice Minister Tzippi Livni's HaT'nua Party to former Meretz MK Mossi Raz. Everyone agrees that the current IDF structure is untenable, born out of the philosophy of "the people's army." In truth, today's army merely creates further political conflict. We proposed an effective model of how the army ought to develop, as between one-third and one-half of all soldiers currently serving in the regular army are inactive.

The basis for the whole idea is for everyone to go through enlistment and a short period of basic training. Afterwards, all the enlistees would be released from the IDF, and only those interested who meet professional army requirements would be accepted for three years of military service. They would receive ample payment and full scholarships towards future academic studies.

Compulsory draft laws obligate the IDF to enlist everyone, even those who don't want or need to serve in the army. This produces adverse results on a number of fronts: a) idleness - a latent inactivity exists within the IDF on a wide scale, and anyone who has served in the army is aware of this; b) damage to the economy - those serving in the army are outside the circle of employment, placing a burden on the overall economy; c) damage to national security - the IDF relies upon cheap manual labor instead of specialization and technology, and this harms the country's defenses. This is clearly illustrated by the gap between the air force, which is essentially a professional volunteer army, and the green recruits; d) loss of freedom; and e) baseless hatred between the secular and chareidim.

What is your opinion about the rift between the political leadership among the settler community and the ultra-Orthodox sector?

"What rift?" Feiglin asked. "Ay, you're talking about the rift between the Bayit Yehudi Party and the chareidim?" he corrected me, and then proceeded to answer my question. "I am deeply troubled over this. As you know, I feel close to both of these communities, and I hope that the rift can be healed. Eventually, there will be no choice and all the Jews here will have to live together and create ways to heal the divisions and cooperate with one another."

Many are concerned that the rift with the ultra-Orthodox will give us a government led by the left-wing parties, while the chareidim seek their vengeance upon the right-wing that betrayed them.

I believe that eventually things will appear differently in politics. I also don't know why a left-wing government coming to power seems so threatening. In the final analysis, no one is building in Yerushalayim today and if Labor Party chairman Shelly Yechimovich were the prime minister, at least there would be a healthy political opposition. Then, if certain threats were made, we could understand what the alternatives might be. We are slowly reaching a point where it's hard to say what's best for the settlements and what's best for the yeshivos and the Torah world. Therefore, the ultra-Orthodox and the national religious sectors will eventually have to get their priorities in order and understand how they must work under the prevailing conditions.

Then there's no difference today between the Likud and the left-wing parties?

According to what you're saying, it would be preferable for the left to come to power.
That's not what I said. Let's put it this way: As things stand right now, the Likud is in power, and I don't see a better alternative. However, the existing gap between the various options appears to be shrinking, and therefore, what the chareidim are threatening to do is becoming less realistic.

In practical terms, how do you think this rift can possibly be healed?
Everyone has to show greater openness towards one another. They must understand that no sector has a monopoly on truth, and each one has some component in realizing that objective. Chareidi, Mizrachi, traditional - every community can add something to the attainment of ultimate truth. With this approach, I believe that we can reach a sense of agreement, understanding, and even cooperation.

Over the past eighteen years, Moshe Feiglin has been publicizing his ideological message through his articles and interviews with the media. He has established a clear vision in every aspect of the Jewish State, including the concept of a Jewish economy. Even the ministries of welfare and defense must act according to the guidelines of Jewish welfare and Jewish combat. Feiglin explains that the concept of Jewish leadership means that Judaism has something to say on everything, and therefore, we must utilize the widest range of activities for disseminating Jewish ideas. His great aspiration is for broad leadership across the Jewish spectrum, producing Jewish leaders in all aspects of life.

Feiglin brings an example of Jewish economics from the banks: "The banks acquire their legendary riches through the forbidden charging of interest par excellence. However, running a bank without interest on personal accounts, without overdrafts, and interest only on corporate accounts - this is something that can definitely be done." He also has something to say to employers: "Taxes have to be reduced as much as possible, and we must come to a situation where an employer will be embarrassed to pay someone minimum wage."

However, when Feiglin speaks about raising the minimum wage, this is far from embracing the classic socialist doctrine: "Capitalism is the basis. Yet, while there can be no economy without basic capitalistic principles, the true regulator (an ugly word in the free market) must be our culture. To the best of my knowledge, the salary gap between a bank clerk in Zurich and a bank manager is no more than twenty percent - by culture, not by law. The origins for cultural regulations are found in Judaism. Standard regulation is everyone deceiving someone else, and the strong always finding a way to trample upon the rights of the weak. Impose taxes on corporations - they'll move overseas; impose taxes on individuals - they'll establish corporations, etc. It's illegal? Pass a law - they'll make a joke out of you. This is the path of defeat. This line of thinking will eventually bring us down.

"In short, economics in a Jewish state has three sides, with freedom as its pivot. I'm not particularly fond of the word 'capitalism,' but a free market simply cannot exist without it. All else is sheer nonsense. The other sides to this economic triangle are faith and kindness. Capitalism is found within a culture that refines and contains it. On the other hand, the harassment of anyone who has money, the belief that if you have money you must have stolen it - this is a classic Communist approach that says that success is evil and money is a sign of corruption. But what can you do? Our forefathers - Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov - were what were commonly called 'capitalists.' The Tanach describes their tremendous wealth. They would be called 'tycoons' today.

"The economic viewpoint within Judaism is really quite amazing. For example, the mitzvah of hashavas aveida (returning lost items), the connection between a person and his belongings, not to mention between a person and his land, is a holy connection. This is the mother of capitalism. On the other hand, this whole enterprise is based on charity and kindness, representing a most unique form of economics.

During last winter's elections, we heard many people speaking "Feiglinese," about the need for Jewish leadership in areas of national direction. It seems as if everyone is parroting your vision.
When they quote you and don't mention your name, that's a clear sign that you've won. I don't seek to work against anyone. I have my vision and the goal that I am trying to reach, and if someone adopts a portion of the ideas that I am bringing into reality - I can only be happy about that.

Have you succeeded in advancing your ideas since entering the Knesset?
I think that my ideas have received a very powerful boost in the Knesset. Every topic I have touched upon has become an issue on a national scale. Israeli society has joined the public discussion on every issue I have raised, and I see this as a success. I believe that the ideas are developing well and we are making progress with them.

During the last few months, the security situation in Yehuda and Shomron has become considerably worse. Yet, there are those who think that it wouldn't be appropriate to raise an outcry and harm the region's new image as a peaceful and tranquil location.
I don't know how much an outcry will help here. We must understand that the problem is not a technical issue over the IDF's ability to deal with the country's security; it's more a matter of awareness. The army acts as if it's a United Nations peacekeeping force; even its administrative arm portrays a distorted sense of reality. For example, in briefings before IDF soldiers on activities with the Arab population, they were called "locals." Thus, the soldier asks himself: If the Arab is a "local" here, what does that say about me? The army considers itself like a foreign entity in Eretz Yisroel and it can't provide true security to the residents of Tel Aviv, Yerushalayim, or even in Yehuda and Shomron. Here is the root of the problem. This is the reality that we have to combat - the belief that this really isn't our land, we're merely occupants, and the Arabs are true masters here. This is the understanding of the average Israeli today.

Are you worried that Netanyahu is cooking up another expulsion plan?
I speak about this at every opportunity. In my opinion, something is definitely brewing, and the fact that there is no construction in Yerushalayim is a part of some far greater policy move.

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