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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The U.S. Must Show Iranians That They Can’t Have It All

The fact that Iran’s anti-regime protests appear to have died down is not a reason to relax the pressure on Tehran. On the contrary, it’s a reason to increase it through serious sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as its support for terror and regional aggression. The protests will only become a truly mass movement if enough Iranians come to realize what the protesters already have: Contrary to the promise held out by the nuclear deal, Iran can’t have it all. Terror and military aggression are incompatible with a thriving economy.

To understand why more pressure is needed, it’s worth revisiting a New York Times article from November that has been widely but somewhat unfairly derided. In it, reporter Thomas Erdbrink wrote that “The two most popular stars in Iran today—a country with thriving film, theater, and music industries—are not actors or singers but two establishment figures: Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s regional military effort, which is widely seen as a smashing success; and the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the symbol of a reasonable and measured Iran.”

The derision stems from the fact that the protesters assailed both Suleimani’s military adventurism and the government of which Zarif is a pillar, proving that neither is quite as popular as Erdbrink thought. Like many Westerners reporting from abroad, he committed the cardinal error of thinking that the fairly narrow circles he frequents represent the country as a whole. Yet within those circles, his analysis of the status of these two men appears to be accurate. That was made clear by the fact that Tehran’s educated middle classes, who formed the core of Iran’s 2009 protests, largely sat this round out.

And in truth, Suleimani and Zarif deserved star status. Together, they seemed to have severed the inverse relationship between military adventurism and economic wellbeing. Thanks to the nuclear deal Barack Obama signed with Iran in 2015, it seemed as if Iran really could have it all. It could maintain an active nuclear program (enriching uranium, conducting research and development, and replacing old, slow centrifuges with new ones that will make the enrichment process 20 times faster); expand its ballistic missile program; become a regional superpower with control, or at least major influence, over four nearby countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen); and still receive sanctions relief worth billions of dollars and have European companies lining up to do business with it, resulting in booming 12 percent growth and plummeting inflation.

That’s precisely why this status was accorded equally to both the “moderate” Zarif and the “hardline” Suleimani, defying the “moderates versus hardliners” prism through which many Westerners misread Iran. Iranians understand quite well that “moderates” and “hardliners” are both part of the ayatollahs’ regime and, in this case, they worked together seamlessly to produce the best of all possible worlds.

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