Abe Foxman: Draft Haredim, Arabs to defend the home front

Proposal undercuts ideological arguments, since draftees would take care of their own neighborhoods, ADL chief says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The ADL's Abe Foxman (Courtesy Shilo Productions)
The ADL's Abe Foxman (Courtesy Shilo Productions)

Israel should consider drafting its Arab and Haredi populations to help protect the home front, a prominent American-Jewish leader proposed Thursday.

“Use the manpower of both the Israeli Arabs and the Haredi community to do service on cleaning, protecting and developing the home front,” Abraham Foxman, the national director of the New York-based Anti Defamation League, told The Times of Israel.

“The beauty of that is that Israeli Arabs would begin with their own community. They would take responsibility for the shelters, the communications networks, for the medical preparations, God forbid, of the home front. After that, they would expand to other parts of Israel. The same would be true for the Haredim: they would start with Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim but eventually would work in Petah Tikva and wherever.”

For Foxman, this plan kills two birds with one stone: it would yield a formula to more equally share the national burden, something Jerusalem has been desperate to find ever since the courts struck down a law enabling yeshiva students to dodge the draft; and it would provide desperately needed manpower to upgrade the Home Front Command so it can be better prepared for emergency situations.

At the swearing-in ceremony of the haredi IDF unit (photo credit: Noam Moscowitz/Flash90)
At the swearing-in ceremony of the haredi IDF unit (photo credit: Noam Moscowitz/Flash90)

In February, the Supreme Court declared the so-called Tal Law unconstitutional. The law expired on July 31, and despite several efforts, the government has yet to legislate a replacement for the controversial law.

In what might be the lead-up to an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, critics have expressed doubts over the Israeli home front’s readiness for possible retaliation by the Islamic Republic and its allies neighboring on Israel.

Back in March, MK Zeev Bielski, who chairs the Knesset subcommittee on Israel’s home defense, said unequivocally that Israel was not ready for war. “We have made improvements over the situation since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when the home front was completely unprepared, but the situation is not good,” he told reporters.

Former state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss made similar comments as late as July.

The outgoing home front defense minister, Matan Vilnai, said this week that “the home front is ready as never before.” He added, however, that a war with Iran would claim some 500 Israeli lives.

On Thursday, former Shin Beit chief and former Kadima MK Avi Dichter was sworn in as new home front defense minister.

“There are a lot of issues, a lot of problems, and a lot of work needs to be done,” Foxman said regarding the readiness of Israel’s shelters and public alert systems. “Avi Dichter is brilliant but he’s going to need a civilian and military army in order to prepare the home front if there’s a case of emergency, God forbid.”

‘But if you don’t care about your family, about your street, what are you doing there in the first place?’

But will Haredim and Israeli Arabs be willing to serve in the Home Front Command? After all, members of both communities are not Zionist and might refuse for ideological reasons to participate in Israeli military efforts. But Foxman believes that his plan undercuts any ideological dimension because the men and women drafted would help save lives in their own neighborhoods.

“You’re going to be protecting your own community, your own home, your own family. Look, there will be some Arabs and some Haredim who will say no; I understand that,” he told The Times of Israel. “At the end of the day, yes, it’s strengthening the home front. But if you don’t care about your family, about your street, then what are you doing there in the first place?”

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