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Carlo Strenger, Haaretz: Israeli secular liberals must demand autonomy

Published on Jul 05 2012 // Opinion

Jul.04, 2012 | 4:28 PM–A few months ago Netanyahu appointed a committee to solve one of Israeli society’s most intractable problems: inequality of military service, as two sectors, ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis do not serve at all. Netanyahu has now dismantled this committee because its proposals led the ultra-Orthodox parties to threaten to leave the coalition. We can safely assume that no satisfactory solution will be found after sixty-four years of Israeli history.

What is to be done about the army, then? Aluf Benn, in a courageous and incisive blog has taken up a suggestion made by Ehud Barak when he was the IDF’s Chief of Staff in the 1990s: to abandon mandatory conscription altogether and professionalize Israel’s army. Even though there are strong reasons, economic and professional, to go down this road, Barak abandoned the proposal when he went into politics. The idea that service in the IDF is the glue that holds Israeli society together remained an untouchable dogma.

Aluf Benn argues that this is a myth that has long ago ceased to correspond to reality and no longer serves any constructive purpose. He argues that Israel will be better off in every respect, if it moves towards the model of a professional army. It will solve one of the central, justified grievances of Israelis who serve in the IDF. It is also likely to streamline the operation and make it much more manageable.

Benn’s ideas indirectly touch upon a much deeper problem, though: not only the army that has ceased to hold Israeli society together. The stark truth is that at this point there is no such thing as Israeli society. There are a number of sectors, often called tribes in Israeli parlance, which hardly communicate with each other, and do not agree on the most basic core values.

A society must have a minimal common denominator to function, and it may well be the case that Israel has crossed the point where this is no longer possible. I have in the past argued that we must begin to think about possible confederate structures, and I am asked, time and again, whether I meant this proposal seriously. I think that given the depth of discord in Israel, we should become more serious in considering confederate structures, a model that has been applied successfully in a number of countries ranging from Canada and Belgium to Switzerland.

The confederate model is particularly appropriate in countries composed of ethnic or linguistic groups with strong cultural differences – and Israel certainly fits this description. A confederative structure might allow the various sectors to live according to their own values, without having to impose them on each other by often distasteful political maneuvering…Read More>>

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