The last Israeli election was bizarre. In a country facing existential threats to its existence from across its borders and massive jihadi genocidal terrorism, the largest election issue was the conscription of religious yeshiva students into the army. This became the main issue of the election thanks to the success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party and also thanks to Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party. Both parties did so well that they allowed a government coalition to be formed without the Ultra-Orthodox chareidi parties for the first time in many, many years. And, since the election, much of the energy of the new government has been devoted to finding ways of forcing the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army or at least do national service like the rest of their fellow citizens.
My own position on this is clear. I favor eliminating the exemption of yeshiva students from military service, and, without quibbling about details, I endorse the initiatives to end the disgraceful exemptions for them from serving. I reject the argument that these people need exemptions to study Torah. I am all in favor of studying Torah. I study Torah myself and I see no reason why a person cannot study Torah if that person also serves his or her country and works for a living.
In fact, I will state this more strongly. Real traditional Judaism proclaims that people who attempt to exploit their positions as students or teachers of Torah for personal gain are guilty of the worst forms of sacrilege and abomination. This means not only that the seeking of exemption from military service on grounds of one’s studies is a disgrace, but seeking any sort of financial arrangement by which one benefits financially from Torah study is just as prohibited and obscene. That means that yeshiva students need to work. If Rashi (the leading Torah commentator of the Middle Ages) and the Rambam (Maimonides) could study Torah while making a living and working for their sustenance, then so can yeshiva students in 21st century Israel. Those who live as parasites and leeches on the financial handouts from the rest of society, extorted through the political process, all supposedly for the sake of studying Torah, are guilty of the worst forms of sacrilege or Chilul Hashem, and that is an Orthodox Rabbinic judgment from the Talmud.
Ironically, holding such a position puts me and those like me in the same political camp (for a rare change) with the secular Left in Israel. It has been chortling with delight at the prospects of ending the wholesale exemptions from military service for the Ultra-Orthodox, and any time the Left is happy about something, the rest of us need to be on the lookout.
But there is a greater irony to all this. The secularist Left has been prancing about and peacocking its grand moral stand in favor of military service for yeshiva students, preaching about the high morality of national service and universal conscription for the entire population (although never proposing expanding it to include Arabs). Service is patriotic, it is part of basic citizenship, it is the duty of all Israelis, so they insist in the usual leftist herd unison.
There is one itsy-bitsy problem in all this. It turns out that the very same secular Leftists who are so proud of themselves for demanding universal conscription and military service for the ultra-Orthodox are PRECISELY the same people who have been running the campaign on behalf of Natan Blanc. He is a 20-year-old make-pretend conscientious objector who has refused to serve in the Israeli military for political reasons and is now the national poster boy for the Left and especially for Haaretz, the Palestinian newspaper printed in Hebrew.
Blanc, first of all, is not religious at all and has no moral positions based on religious belief. He also is not a pacifist. He explains quite candidly that the reason he refuses to serve in the Israeli military is because he is opposed to “occupation.” In other words, he wants an exemption from military service because he disagrees with national policy on ideological grounds. Blanc has been arrested 10 times, has sat in prison for 177 days for disobedience and insubordination and refusal to serve, and yesterday the Israeli government weenied out and decided to release him from prison. It thus granted legitimacy to the position of the Left, which holds that people who disagree with government policy should be exempt from serving in the military. See this story. Haaretz has been serving as Blanc’s PR service and has run story after story praising and saluting him. Blanc has also become the patron saint of the rest of the Left, who squeal in delight over his great moral devotion and principled conscientious objection. Finally, Blanc’s father, David Blanc, is a math professor at my own school, the University of Haifa, and has been (mis-)using university facilities to promote the campaign on behalf of his son, in coordination with Uri Avnery’s radical anti-Israel Gush Shalom mini-movement (see this).
So how come the very same people so ecstatic about ending the exemption from military service for yeshiva students are leading the campaign to grant exemption to Natan Blanc? Well, the answer is obvious. Far leftists are fundamentally anti-democratic. They believe that people should serve their country ONLY when their country is doing what the Far Left wants, and in this case the far Left wants Israel to duplicate Gaza’s Hamastan in the West Bank, leading to Israel being drenched in a barrage of hundreds of thousands of missiles, and also it wants Israel to “withdraw” from Jerusalem and grant the “Palestinians” the “right of return” and affirmative action preferences. The Left not only thinks that far leftists like Blanc should be exempt from military service. It also thinks that people in general should be exempt from obeying the law as long as Israel refuses to follow the diktats of the Far Left. Should not leftists and Arabs be exempt from paying taxes as long as Israel refuses to implement the policies advocated by Saudi Arabia and John Kerry? Why stop at military service – why not make all obeying of laws conditional on the government adopting the policies advocated by Ilan Pappe and Noam Chomsky?
And if Israelis stubbornly refuse to implement the agenda of the Far Left voluntarily, then international pressure and sanctions should be implemented against Israel to coerce Israelis into submitting to the will of the 2% of society that comprises the radical Left. The leading voice advocating such international pressures to subvert the sovereignty of the Israeli voter has been Amiram Goldblum, a radical leftist professor of pharmaceutical studies at the Hebrew University and a founder of “Peace Now.” (Goldblum was also the initiator of that pseudo-survey a few months ago claiming to show that Israelis favor apartheid.)
Blanc, by the way, does not claim to be religiously opposed to all use of arms, which has been the basis for exempting some Quakers and others in the US from military service (back when the US had conscription). Blanc is not religious at all and as far as I know does not oppose all uses of force or arms in all cases on principle. I suspect he would applaud any international military effort to defend Syrian civilians from the assaults by the Assad regime. Blanc just opposes the use of arms by Israel as long as Israel refuses to duplicate Hamastan in the West Bank and abandon Jerusalem. Blanc also did not offer to do non-combatant military service in the IDF, such as serving as a cook or male nurse or janitor. Most Israeli soldiers by the way are non-combat personnel (in fact I was one such) and Blanc would have no problem finding such a position.
So now that Netanyahu and his team have once again chosen the cowardly path and capitulated to the protests by the Leftists supporting Blanc’s exemption from service and release from prison for insubordination, just how are they going to justify their campaign for universal service for the yeshiva students?
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