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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Physicians, Heal Thyselves

It’s no secret that many liberal Jews today view tikkun olam, the Hebrew phrase for “repairing the world,” as the essence of Judaism. In To Heal the World?, Jonathan Neumann begs to differ, emphatically. He views liberal Judaism’s love affair with tikkun olam as the story of “How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel.” In fact, he believes tikkun olam endangers Judaism itself. Anyone who considers such notions wildly over the top should make sure to read Neumann’s book—because one needn’t agree with everything he says to realize that his major concerns are disturbingly well-founded.

Neumann begins by explaining what he considers the modern liberal Jewish understanding of tikkun olam. It is taken, he says, not just as a general obligation to make the world a better place, but as a specific obligation to promote specific “universal” values and even specific policies—usually, the values and policies of progressive Democrats.

He then raises three major objections to this view. The first is that the only way to interpret Judaism as a universalist religion with values indistinguishable from those of secular progressives is by ignoring the vast majority of key Jewish texts, including the Bible and the Talmud, and millennia of Jewish tradition. After all, most of these texts deal with the history, laws, and culture of one specific nation—the Jews. The Bible’s history isn’t world history, nor are its laws (with a few exceptions) meant to govern any nation but the Jews. Judaism undeniably has universalist elements. But to ignore its particularist aspects is to ignore much of what makes it Judaism, which therefore corrupts our understanding of Judaism.

The second problem is that if Judaism has no purpose other than promoting the same values and policies touted by non-Jewish progressives, there’s no reason for Judaism to exist at all. Consequently, the tikkun olam version of Judaism really does threaten Judaism’s continued existence, and it’s no accident that the liberal Jewish movements that have embraced it are rapidly dwindling due to intermarriage and assimilation. After all, why should young American Jews remain Jewish when they can do everything they think Judaism requires of them even without being Jewish?

This also explains why, in Neumann’s view, tikkun olam Judaism endangers Israel. If there’s no reason for Judaism to exist, there’s certainly no reason for a Jewish state. Indeed, Israel is anathema to the tikkun olam worldview because it’s the embodiment of Jewish particularism—the view that Jews are a distinct nation and have their own history, culture, and laws rather than being merely promulgators of universal values. Thus it’s easy to understand why tikkun olam Jews increasingly abhor the Jewish state.

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