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Gantz calls for greater involvement of Israeli Arabs in national service

Former IDF chief also approves of limited Shin Bet support against Arab crime

National Unity head Benny Gantz speaks during a press conference at the Knesset in, Jerusalem, June July 19, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Unity Party chairman Benny Gantz has plans to reform the national military service model, amid discussions about a new IDF Draft Law being advanced by ultra-Orthodox parties in the government.

The former defense minister – who also served as IDF chief of staff – discussed his opinions in an interview with the Israeli Arab Hala TV channel, released on Saturday.

Gantz explained that he is aware of the enormous complexities of Israeli society, which includes diverse groups like the ultra-Orthodox Haredi population and Israeli Arabs.

“But I also know that the era in which half the people serve the other half, or half of society serves the other half of society, is over. It cannot happen anymore,” Gantz said regarding military service in the Israel Defense Forces.

“Therefore, I proposed a service outline that is very broad. There is military service, there is a security service and there is the option to serve in the emergency services, and there is the option to serve in social and community services that the state recognizes... and people will have to choose where they are going to serve."

According to Gantz’s outline, every citizen would serve the same minimum amount of time and would then receive more compensation to perform a longer or more dangerous service, for example as a combat soldier.

"The basis is an egalitarian basis. It contains the general society, it contains the Haredi society, it should also contain the Arab society," the former IDF chief added.

“I believe that even in the Arab community… if people will be part of the state system if they will serve and study and be part of the society, I think they will turn less to criminality.”

Under the current system, while most ultra-Orthodox men are de facto exempt from service in the IDF, some serve in special ultra-Orthodox units or other forms of national service, for example, medical emergencies.

The current draft law was passed in 2015 but ruled unconstitutional by Israel's High Court, which claimed the law violated the principle of equality and did not contain mechanisms for enforcing ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

The amendment of the law has been delayed for years, partly because the ultra-Orthodox parties have feared the court would strike it down again. They are currently pushing for a new law together with a limited override clause to prevent the High Court from overturning it.

Israeli Arabs are not drafted into the IDF but can volunteer for the service. Residents of certain communities and villages, especially those belonging to Bedouin tribes in northern Israel or, more recently, Aramean Christians, are known to volunteer for service in the army and police forces more often than in the military.

Gantz was also asked about the recent crime wave in the Arab community in Israel in which more than 150 people were murdered this year.

“We need to make sure that there is a very strong fight against crime, through strong police work, by reinforcements on the ground, by strengthening the investigation and intelligence system, and by strengthening the judicial system, the enforcement and punishment derived from this matter,” he said before adding, “it is possible to integrate the Shin Bet in some of these things."

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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