Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Serving the Nation

Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel's top general, yesterday suggested having a national service system that would draft all Israelis, including Haredi and Arabs; the IDF would recruit the people it needs, but groups and individuals who wouldn't fit into the IDF would still do their part.

On the one hand, a no-brainer. Most young Israelis serve in the IDF for two to four years; having entire groups who don't is unfair and socially unhealthy. (Those who serve are conscripted, not volunteers). There are some legal benefits, in eligibility to subsidized morgatages, for example, which are granted only to people who served; having everybody serve would make that distinction go away. It's possible to think of many civilian tracks and programs on which young people could both contribute and acquire valuable experience, beyond the military.

On the other hand, it's worth noting that almost no other democratic societies expect of their young adults to set aside any time at all for engagement in a national service format. The idea that society would legislate a requirement to serve it is contrary to the Zeitgeist.

Perhaps that's a problem with the Zeitgeist, however.

Meanwhile, there is a small but growing number of Haredi young men who are breaking ranks with the norms of their part of society and joining the IDF. The most recent story is of dozens, and perhaps soon hundreds, who are joining the military intelligence. These are different from the HDDH-type Haredi 18-year-olds who can't sit in the yeshiva, don't fit into their environment, and have been joining the IDF in small numbers for some years now. This new group is the opposite: men in their late 20s from the best yeshivot. Someone who has spent years at, say the Hebron Yeshiva (which is in Jerusalem, not Hebron), easily has the intellectual prowess of a Harvard grad student. The army is now finding ways to fit them into those of its units that can best make use of such people.

It's a good idea for the army, and for the young men, and for their society and the general society. I can't find anything in the story to kvetch about, tho I love to kvetch. There's even the added benefit that some of these young men are going into 8200, the technological branch of the military intelligence; and over the past 20 years the old-boys-(and-girls)-network of 8200 has been one of the central engines of Israel's high-tech revolution. Having some Haredi men in that network will be very interesting.

No comments: