As the internal Israeli debate on the subject of universal national service heats up, a new survey from the University of Haifa found that only around 40 percent of Israeli Arab youths were willing to participate in national service.
The survey, conducted by Professors Sammy Smooha and Zohar Lechtman and released this month, shows not only a 13% decrease in support for civil service among Arab youths as compared to 2009, but also a 6% drop in the Arab public’s enthusiasm for the subject, to 62.2%.
A February High Court decision mandated an end to Israel’s longtime practice of exempting ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from military service, and opened up a debate on the future of national service in Israel. For many years, only Orthodox Jewish girls particpated in the service rather than serving in the army, but in 2007 a government decision allowed all citizens to opt into national service, including the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs.
Many lawmakers have called for a universal national service law to be implemented, which would require all citizens who do not serve in the IDF to complete national service in a civic framework.
Many Arab MKs, however, have opposed the suggestion, most vocally Ahmad Tibi (Arab Movement for Renewal), who warned in Yedioth Ahronoth “not to test our strength to oppose an attempt to force us to serve.” He added, “This will be a serious mistake.”
On Monday, the Tal Law Committee held its first meeting, presided over by the prime minister but without the presence of an Arab or ultra-Orthodox representative.
The prime minister said Monday that he saw the goal of the committee as “sharing the burden, and gradual implementation that includes both Jews and Arabs, without setting one population against another.”
Netanyahu outlined four aims for the committee: an equal distribution of the burden of service, gradual implementation of reforms, inclusion of Jews and Arabs alike, and seeking change without causing strife.
Despite the lack of support for civil service shown in the University of Haifa study, the Administration of National and Civic Service statistics show that each year sees a greater number of Arab volunteers, from 240 in 2004-5 to 1,050 in 2008-9 and to 2,399 this year.
Professor Smooha explained that “the major factor in the drop of support is the exacerbation of the Arab public’s attitudes toward the state because of the political impasse in the Palestinian question, the wars and the hostile atmosphere in Israel toward Arabs since 2009.”
He continued: “Arab leaders vehemently oppose civil service because it is presumably linked to national security, may serve as a precedent for imposing in the future a military or civil service duty, dilute the Palestinian-Arab identity and commitments of Arab youth, and because it is administered by the state instead of the Arabs themselves.”
However, the survey showed that the great majority of Israeli Arabs who do national service are satisfied: 91.6% of the volunteers were satisfied with the service, 95.8% felt proud of their volunteering, 96.4% said that people treated them well, 89.0% thought that volunteering contributed to Arab society, and 82.4% believed that it contributed to the state.