‘Let’s stop the fight’ with the ultra-Orthodox, defense minister says

“I believe that all parts of Israeli society, Jews as well as Arabs, the religious as well as the secular, must find a way to serve Israeli society,” Gantz said.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Defense Minister Benny Gantz struck a conciliatory note Monday regarding a new version of Israel’s Draft law that is currently being formulated, saying “Let’s stop the fight” with the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community over service to the nation.

“The law should be advanced as soon as possible; there are not a few obstacles in the way,” he said in answer to a question posed by a journalist from the haredi Kikar Shabbat news site.

“It should pass [in the Knesset] because it’s a step that enables us to … promote the reformation of service in Israel,” he said.

Gantz indicated that the law is not focused solely on forcing army service on the ultra-Orthodox sector, which as a whole rejects military service in the belief that full-time Torah study is a higher duty.

“Learning Torah is extremely important,” the secular defense minister said diplomatically, before making his point.

“I believe that all parts of Israeli society, Jews as well as Arabs, the religious as well as the secular, must find a way to serve Israeli society,” he said.

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He then listed various ways this could be accomplished: military service, aiding the security services, civil service and community service, saying, “The Defense Ministry is building … many tracks into the reform.”

The Ministry is also consulting with “many haredi bodies, not necessarily political ones,” he added.

One possibility that has been raised in the past is that young haredi men volunteer to help their own communities while studying Torah every evening. This would enable them to maintain their lifestyle and continue at least in part the study that they see as their highest value, while also fulfilling their national obligation. After two years, they could then legally enter the workplace, or return to full-time religious studies.

“Look,” Gantz added, “haredi society is a mobilized one. If we only look at the number of people in charity organizations, it is an incredible thing, it doesn’t exist almost anywhere else in the world. Let’s stop fighting. Let’s harness everything for the benefit of the nation and the state.”