Analysis from Israel
Very few Israeli-Arabs volunteer for national service so as not to “serve the state.” It’s time they realized the only disservice is to themselves.
The Hebrew media reported last week on a Bank of Israel study showing that elementary schools in the state religious system receive the most weekly teaching hours from the state, while Arab elementary schools receive the least. Yet since official Education Ministry policy is to allocate more hours to schools that serve weaker socioeconomic population groups, Arab schools should have topped the list.

Is this yet another example of how the Jewish state discriminates against Arabs? Well, not quite – because the study found that one significant reason for the gap was supplemental teaching hours provided by national service volunteers, who are subsidized by the state.

Religious schools get the most such hours because most national service volunteers are religious girls, and not only do these girls often prefer to serve in their own community, but nonreligious schools are sometimes unenthusiastic about taking them. That’s certainly grounds for secular schools to cry discrimination, since their dearth of volunteers is not their community’s fault, but the law’s: Secular girls are drafted, whereas religious girls are allowed to choose between army and national service. Were secular girls given the same choice, many might also prefer national service.

But in the Arab community, neither men nor women are drafted, so both sexes are eligible to volunteer for national service. Thus in theory, this community could be producing even more volunteers than the religious community.

Instead, it produces very few: Though the number rose from 240 in 2005 to 1,256 in 2009, that is less than 7 percent of the 19,000 Arab teens who graduate high school each year. This scarcity is not mere happenstance; it is deliberately engineered. Both the Arab community’s political leadership and many prominent Arab civil-society organizations are vehemently opposed to “serving the Zionist state,” and therefore do everything in their power to dissuade Arab teens from volunteering.

Thus when the government launched a campaign to persuade Arab teens to volunteer for national service a few years ago, not only did all the Arab political parties decry the idea, but they set up a joint task force to coordinate the battle against it. Arab newspapers editorialized against national service; youth groups campaigned against it; a popular hip-hop group even wrote a song condemning it. As MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) put it, national service “is a political effort to increase the domination of the Arab population, and to blur their identity … the purpose is to identify with the state against the Palestinian people — or to make them more Zionist and less Palestinian.”

Teens who volunteered despite this pressure often found themselves branded as “traitors.” The orchestrated opposition also caused some schools to refuse to accept national service volunteers, since that too, would be a form of cooperation with the hated Zionist state.

That attitude would obviously preclude Jewish volunteers as well, but they would be less useful in any case, due to the language barrier: Arabic is the principal language of instruction in Arab schools, and few Jewish teens speak fluent Arabic.

All of the above is not to say that discrimination doesn’t exist; it definitely does. And the Arab leadership frequently cites this as justification for their opposition to national service: Arab citizens owe the state nothing, they argue, because the state isn’t fulfilling its obligations to them.

If their goal is to end discrimination, the efficacy of this tactic was always dubious. Nothing makes a majority feel more justified in discriminating than a sense that a minority is not merely different, but actively hostile. And a minority whose leadership stridently proclaims itself devoid of any desire to either identify with or contribute to the state clearly encourages the perception that it is hostile.

But what the Bank of Israel data shows is that this tactic is not merely ineffective, but downright harmful – not just to the goal of equality, but to the Arab community’s overall quality of life. It turns out that the prime victim of the Arab leadership’s opposition to “serving the state” has been neither the state nor its Jewish majority, but the Arab community itself.

The writer is a journalist and commentator

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‘We need to talk’ about the role of non-Orthodox movements

The Jewish Federations of North America are holding their annual General Assembly this week under the title “We Need to Talk,” with “we” meaning Israel and the Diaspora. In that spirit, let’s talk about one crucial difference between the two communities: the role of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements. In America, these movements are important to maintaining Jewish identity, something Israelis often fail to understand. But in Israel, they are unnecessary to maintaining Jewish identity—something American Jews frequently fail to understand.

A 2013 Pew Research poll found that by every possible measure of Jewish identity, American Jews who define themselves as being “of no religion” score significantly worse than those who define themselves as Reform or Conservative Jews. For instance, 67 percent of “Jews of no religion” raise their children “not Jewish,” compared to just 10 percent of Reform Jews and 7 percent of Conservative Jews. Only 13 percent give their children any formal or informal Jewish education (day school, Hebrew school, summer camp, etc.), compared to 77 percent of Conservative Jews and 48 percent of Reform Jews. The intermarriage rate for “Jews of no religion” is 79 percent, compared to 50 and 27 percent, respectively, among Reform and Conservative Jews.

Indeed, 54 percent of “Jews of no religion” say being Jewish is of little or no importance to them, compared to just 14 percent of Reform Jews and 7 percent of Conservative Jews, while 55 percent feel little or no attachment to Israel, compared to 29 percent of Reform Jews and 12 percent of Conservative Jews. And only 10 percent care about being part of a Jewish community, compared to 25 and 40 percent, respectively, of Reform and Conservative Jews.

Granted, the non-Orthodox movements haven’t done very well at transmitting Jewish identity to subsequent generations; Orthodoxy is the only one of the three major denominations where the percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds isn’t significantly lower than the percentage of people over 50. Nevertheless, these movements do vastly better than “Jews no religion,” which, for most non-Orthodox Jews, is the most likely alternative. Not surprisingly, any Jewish identity is better than none.

Yet the picture is very different among secular Israeli Jews, the closest Israeli equivalent to “Jews of no religion.” The vast majority marry other Jews, if only because most of the people they know are Jewish. Almost all raise their children Jewish because that’s the norm in their society (fertility rates are also significantly higher). More than 80 percent consider their Jewish identity important. Most obviously care about Israel, since they live there. And because they live there, they belong to the world’s largest Jewish community, whether they want to or not.

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