Many countries have a system of universal military conscription. These typically tend to be smaller countries with a history of invasion or encirclement by hostile powers. A few examples include Serbia, South Korea, and Israel. Israel, since its inception in the late 1940s, has had just such a system that’s undergone some revisions in the past seven decades. The Israeli system includes a law that exempts ultra-Orthodox (think Hasidic) Jews from compulsory military service. The majority of ultra-Orthodox are seminary students, and receive a broad range of benefits from the Israeli government, including welfare benefits along with this military exemption.
But that may be coming to an end soon. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled this past February that the exemption was unconstitutional and that the Israeli Knesset (parliament) had to draft a new law that didn’t so blatantly favor one group of Israelis over another. As such, the exemption law expired yesterday, and now the ultra-Orthodox are subject to the draft.
So what’s the big deal about this? Well, historically, the ultra-Orthodox have been the most conservative, the most hawkish members of Israeli society. Whenever it comes to military actions, they’re usually right out front, demanding that the military option be exercised over the diplomatic one. They also have a history of building the most settlements on Palestinian territories. In short, they talk the talk when it comes to military actions and policies that would require the most military support, but they want no part of having to be a part of the military on which they so heavily rely.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. It could well be that the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel suddenly becomes much more moderate in both it’s political outlook and conduct. Because, as well are all well aware, your viewpoint changes suddenly when you come off the bench and find yourself squarely in center field. It’s much easier to be an armchair coach than an actual quarterback.