Burden of dreams
Hebrew media review

Burden of dreams

Ruling forcing young ultra-Orthodox men into army is just the start of the story, though papers are already rife with fantasies of draft equality -- or judges put in their place

Israeli soldiers guard at a bus stop in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on October 19, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers guard at a bus stop in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on October 19, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tuesday’s High Court decision to strike down a law that allows members of the ultra-Orthodox community to dodge the draft is the top story across the board in Wednesday’s papers, though the magnitude of the news is tempered by the fact that nobody actually thinks the 15-year saga has been put to rest.

While most pundits in the secular press’s major papers praise the decision, the reporting makes clear that Tuesday’s ruling is just another step in an ongoing battle over whether the state can force members of the Haredi community to be conscripted into the army, albeit one that now could have wide-ranging consequences for everyone’s lives.

Yedioth Ahronoth’s headline calls the decision a “High Court draft bomb” (and it doesn’t mean Ryan Leaf), and reports that “the saga that has continued for 15 years is once again roiling the political arena.”

The paper reports that with the High Court giving the government a year to draft a new law, “the clock is ticking” and last time this happened, in 2012, it ended with new elections.

Haaretz reports that analysts do not think ultra-Orthodox politicians will try to bring down the government over the decision, though.

“There has never been nor will there be a better government for the Haredim than this one,” a coalition source is quoted telling the paper. “The High Court decision may serve as an excuse for going to elections because of the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it for sure won’t be the real reason for such a move, if it should happen in the near future.”

Haaretz columnist Yossi Verter says the only option available to the government is a law that overrides the High Court, not they they are troubled by that idea.

“That would be a bullet into the leg of the High Court and the undoing of its ability to strike down laws passed by the Knesset,” he writes. “It’s the Number 1 fantasy of the right wing-Haredi bloc.”

Both Yedioth and Haaretz play up quotes from the ruling, in which Judge Miriam Naor decried the lack of equality in carrying the national “burden,” as army service is known. But Israel Hayom, broadcasting its solidarity with the ultra-Orthodox (as well as that of Netanyahu, for which it serves as a de facto mouthpiece), doesn’t even start its story with the ruling, instead leading off with ultra-Orthodox anger over the decision and attacks on the court.

“The ruling proves again the severe disconnect between the upper court and the Jewish people, which knows that throughout the generations what has bolstered us against persecution has been the study of Torah,” the paper quotes Shas head Aryeh Deri saying in its second paragraph.

Columnist Yehuda Schlesinger keeps up the attack on the court for the paper, writing that the judges are undermining democracy.

“Even though the public did not elect them, the High Court has become in recent years an alternative government. The gas output deal, a tax on third apartments, policies against [African migrants] on all of these the government decided, but the High Court? It thought differently. In matters of religion and state, it’s even worse, with the High Court turning into the unchallenged ruler on determining the state’s character,” he writes.

Haaretz columnist Amos Harel writes that drafting the ultra-Orthodox is a headache the army doesn’t need, but notes that it’s willing to take on that burden in the name of social health.

“Equality in the burden of service may not be the issue that most bothers secular and religious Zionist recruits, for whom the draft is compulsory, but it definitely bothers many of their parents. In a society where enlistment rates in general and the number of recruits doing combat service in particular are both falling steadily, the lack of equality with the ultra-Orthodox cries out to heavens,” he writes. “Under these circumstances, Israeli society cannot allow the situation to remain as it is. Even if the army fears it will get burned by entering this political minefield, continuing the existing situation is liable to undermine motivation and fighting spirit within its own ranks.”

In Yedioth, meanwhile, columnist Ben-Dror Yemini celebrates the decision as a “holiday for most Israelis,” though it seems to be more of a minor one for now.

“Not that the problem is solved. Not that a new era of sharing the burden will dawn tomorrow. The way forward is still long, very long. But the High Court decision is an important milestone against the cynicism by which a Haredi minority prevents the State of Israel again and again from being a little more fair and a little more normal,” he writes.

Putting aside the question of who is doing the fighting, papers also look at what the army is fighting, though it seems those who most need to know don’t really want to. Yedioth reports that only one minister — Naftali Bennett — has signed up to attend a special briefing for the cabinet on the country’s largest drill in years, with tens of thousands of soldiers simulating a war with Hezbollah.

“This is a show of a lack of seriousness and a lack of responsibility from cabinet members, given the fact that during the briefing they are supposed to get information on one of the central threats against Israel,” the paper quotes a Greek chorus of senior IDF officials saying.

For seriousness, perhaps Israel should look to Russia. Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el reports that the Kremlin is getting its hands dirty in trying to broker reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, and is not pussy-footing around.

“Russia’s involvement in both the internal Palestinian conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian one isn’t unconnected to its regional strategy, especially management of the Syrian crisis, which is now exclusively in Russia’s hands,” he writes, adding that Russia wants to get Hamas to back away from Iran and toward Fatah, to pacify jitters from the Gulf states and their ilk.

As for our neck of the woods, he continues, “if Russia decides that Palestinian reconciliation is critical to its regional interests, Israel will have trouble maintaining its opposition, especially since it needs Russian guarantees against Iran’s consolidation in Syria. That’s why Israel has been maintaining radio silence about Russia’s moves — a silence accompanied by prayers that the Palestinians will once again spoil their own broth and save Israel from the need to make a decision.”

Decisions can be difficult, especially when it comes to where to invest your money. Luckily, Israel Hayom has a hot stock tip for readers: invest in Israel Hayom (though it’s not publicly traded). The paper runs a full page story, complete with nearly identical pictures of owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam opening the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (one of the pictures also includes editor Boaz Bismuth and TASE head Etai Ben Zeev) and declaring the newspaper the best.

“The most secure stock in Israeli media,” the story’s headline reads, quoting Bismuth, who is not biased at all.

The story also quotes Sheldon calling for the government to loosen regulations on businesses.

“Unlike the narrative that sees business and entrepreneurship as a curse that should be persecuted,” he’s quoted as saying, “we see being rich and wealth as a blessing.”

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