Much as the Nazis did not distinguish between observant and non-observant Jews, IDF conscription is independent of religious affiliation, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz reportedly told the ultra-Orthodox soldiers of the Nahal Haredi battalion on Sunday.
“In Auschwitz they did not differentiate between us; we all went to the crematoria regardless of if who wore a kippah and who did not wear a kippah, and they did not distinguish between those with beards and those without beards,” the daily Maariv quoted Gantz as saying, in an apparent attempt to foster unity.
Addressing dozens of ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the West Bank settlement of Mevo Dotan, while in Jerusalem hundreds of thousands of Haredim rallied against the draft, Gantz stressed that the IDF did not impinge on religious freedom.
“It’s possible to serve in the IDF and remain a believer and Haredi, and all the conditions are in place so that those who enter as religious Zionists leave as religious Zionists, and those who enter as Haredim will leave as Haredim, and those who enter secular, will leave secular,” he said.
While Gantz refused to address his opinion regarding the ongoing prayer rally, he emphasized repeatedly that regardless of political or religious opinions, everyone must serve in the IDF.
Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox took to the streets in Jerusalem to protest the impending enlistment bill. While dozens of Nahal Haredi soldiers dutifully attended the IDF chief’s presentation, a number of them expressed their solidarity with the demonstrators in Jerusalem.
“We, the soldiers and fighters of Netzach Yehuda Battalion – Nahal Haredi, stand together with the Haredi public in its struggle,” a number of soldiers posted on Facebook, according to the ultra-Orthodox website Kikar Hashabat.
The soldiers wrote that their support was “not because we are for or against the equality of the burden [bill], but because of the hatred. Because with the encouragement of the media, there is an entire public that thinks it is legitimate to hate, persecute and slander on every platform. And they are our brothers, flesh of our flesh.”
The mass rally drew responses from leading Israeli politicians, who pointed to the demonstration as proof that the enlistment bill is necessary.
“Those who saw the number of people understood that the State of Israel cannot carry them all on its back,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid told Channel 10.
“It’s fine that they’re protesting, it’s a democracy,” he said. “But there is a connection between rights and obligations. I am not against them, but they need to be part of Israel, and it’s not an attack on the Torah world.”
MK Yaakov Peri, like Lapid a member of Yesh Atid, as well as a member of the Shaked Committee that drafted the legislation in question, said the rally was a harbinger of a “cultural revolution” in ultra-Orthodox society.
“The rally is a sign of a change in consciousness among the Haredi public. It is a cultural revolution that is not simple, and therefore the law is balanced and sensitive and sets clear recruitment objectives. It’s all up to them,” he said.