Universal draft a call to arms for Israeli Arabs

Wed Jul 11, 2012 12:45pm EDT
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By Crispian Balmer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - They may inhabit parallel universes, but most ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and Israeli Arabs share the same instinctive aversion to the idea they should be forced into military service.

A court decision earlier this year to annul a draft law has forced the government to review rules surrounding military and civilian conscription of young men, with growing calls for all members of Israel's disparate society to share the burden.

The inward-looking ultra-Orthodox community has long been mobilized to forestall efforts to curtail bible study for their young men and draw them into the military.

Muslim and Christian Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the Israeli population and complain of cradle-to-grave discrimination, are only now being sucked into the debate.

"There is no reason why young Jews, Muslims or Christians should not be recruited at age 18," Israel's ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said on Monday, adding he would present a bill for a universal national service next week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, obliged by the Supreme Court to devise a new law by August 1, hopes to put the Arab issue on hold as he tries to defuse the ultra-Orthodox timebomb, and can expect a furious response if he challenges the status quo.

"Arabs will resist any attempt to draft them or to implement plans that are not agreed first with our communities," Hanna Swaid, an Arab Christian member of the Israeli parliament (Knesset), told Reuters.

"We have already raised the prospect of civil disobedience."   Continued...

Wahid el-Huzayel, an Israeli-Arab soldier from the Bedouin town of Rahat, runs near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, just outside the southern Gaza Strip in this August 14, 2007 file photo. Military service is a rite of passage for most Israelis, who view the army as a core element of national identity. That is where the problem starts for many Arabs, who associate more closely with the Palestinians and feel alienated in a country created in 1948 that defines itself as a Jewish state. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/Files