As Israelis gear up for elections in January 2013, we’ll be hearing politicians calling for an “equal draft.” The demand that Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, men be conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) just like everyone else is very popular these days. Although this sounds like a bid for equality and social justice, it is really just the opposite—an attempt to stir up a disaffected public through a cynical appeal to the politics of resentment.
Not that we, the non-Haredi majority, don’t have good reasons to be resentful. Long-standing political agreements have allowed nearly two-thirds of all Haredi men between the ages of 35 and 54 to be “employed” in full-time religious study, living—albeit in poverty—on government subsidies paid for by taxes from the rest of us. And the Tal Law, passed for reasons of political expediency a decade ago, allows Haredi yeshiva students to postpone their military service for six years, after which they are supposed to choose among full-time yeshiva study, a job and partial military duty, or 18 months of national service. In fact, during these 10 years, only some 1,200 Haredi men have actually enlisted, while 55,000 of them have avoided the draft. (Haredi women are automatically exempted.)