If you read the headlines, the biggest issue in Israel isn't Iran's nuclear program or Syria's chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood; it's how to draft Haredim, widely referred to as Ultra-Orthodox Jews, into the army.
Religious Nationalists in the army are a problem, because many of them are patriots and not too enthusiastic about giving up land to terrorists. The Ultra-Orthodox don't care about the country or how much land it has, which makes them ideal recruits from the left's point of view. Unfortunately, they don't actually want to join the army.
The left's ideal recruit doesn't care about the country and mechanically follows orders to ethnically cleanse Jewish towns and villages. But, unfortunately, that ideal recruit would rather be playing guitar in Tel Aviv or studying the Talmud in Jerusalem than patrolling the frontier and fighting terrorists. The leftist sons and daughters of the idle rich want to protest at checkpoints in between parties, not serve at them, and, while Haredim will mechanically follow orders, those orders won't come from the military, its political generals or an activist Supreme Court.
No one really wants Haredim in the military all that much, but it's fashionable to suggest that they aren't pulling their weight. Which indeed they aren't; but neither is much of the country.
The left rants about the money going to Haredi children out of one side of its mouth, while the other side screams that the children of African migrant workers should be allowed to remain in the country and given full benefits. Leftist tabloids act disgusted when Haredim send out children in yellow stars to protest but have no similar compunction about using Holocaust analogies and iconography when protesting against the deportation of migrant workers.
And let's not forget the Muslim sector. Israeli Arabs form 20 percent of the country, but consume 52 percent of its social benefits. It would be illegal to call them parasites, the way that Haredim are often called parasites. An election commercial showing a mob of Muslims clinging to the legs of an Israeli voter pleading for more money would result in criminal charges. But a similar commercial featuring Haredim was filmed and broadcast by a prominent leftist third party, the son of whose scion is now also aspiring to major third party status on the same program of social justice and Haredi-bashing.
But so long as Haredim don't serve, they are a useful political weapon in a country where everyone is justly convinced that they are being screwed over by powerful interests. Men in black hats and beards are alien enough to be a useful target, and their isolation has allowed them fill the traditional role of the Jew in exile as a scapegoat for national frustrations.
The Haredim are expected to stay in their ghettos, for the same reason that Jews were kept there. The ghettos create a permanent scapegoat while the few ways out require assimilation. And that system suits both those running the ghettos and the state. It's the middle ground of change that would allow Haredim to participate in public life without losing who they are that both sides fear and restrict.
The left agitates against Haredi benefits, but it set up a system where the Haredim would do nothing but vote in exchange for benefits, in the same way that it set up a similar system for the Arab sector. It complains about oligarchs, when the left is structured as an oligarchy funded and manned by the well-connected and the wealthy. It complains about settlements, when it derives most of its foreign funding on a pledge to fight them. If the so-called settlements went away, a lot of the professional left would suddenly have to find real jobs.
The Israeli left, like its international counterparts, is an elitist movement clinging to the myth of an egalitarian past. It spreads hate and suspicion because it knows that a united electorate would never pick it. And it plays on issues that it only pretends to care about to feed national resentments while promising a better way.
According to the left, Israel has no peace because of the settlers and has no fair distribution of benefits because of the Haredim. The Mizrahi members of its lists will tell their communities that the Russians are stealing the benefits that should be theirs. The Russian members of its lists will tell their communities that the Orthodox Jews are stealing their benefits. The Arabs on the list will tell their communities that the Jews are stealing all their benefits (but not vice versa as that would be illegal.)
Everyone will troop out for a social protest overseen by the left's NGO's with money that it solicited from foreign donors on a promise to fight settlements, but after a week or two, there will be a Muslim terrorist attack which will interrupt the momentum of the social protest, and the organizers will fold up their expensive tents, bought with money from the European Union and American leftists, and do the same thing all over again next month.
The Israeli left has become a pathetic and degenerate creature that feeds on this sort of hate. It rarely identifies itself in elections anymore, camouflaging its parties as centrist and mainstream. Its social protests may be stage-managed by the sort of people who parade around with red shirts and Palestinian flags in their real protests, but the social protests are masked as centrist protests, exploiting people with real grievances so that the grievance-makers may once again take power.
In the long run, the Haredim are needed in the workforce and the military, but getting them there would require changing the system, rather than the system that relies on them politically using them as scapegoats when politically convenient.
The National Unity Government came together and split not over the Haredi draft, but its cynical use as a political football in the game of coalitions that defines Israel's political life. No one really wants to draft the Haredim, but no one, besides the Haredim, wants to appear not to want to draft them either. Haredi service, unlike food and apartment prices, is a stable grievance commodity. A political party that promises to draft them has its hand on the brass ring of Israeli grievance politics.
Israel's fragmented immigrant cultures, its political system of ethnic and religious parties, that represent groups rather than neighborhoods, make this sort of game all too easy to play. Every faction and group breaks down into myriad splinter groups and divisions, all of them animated by a fervent belief that they are getting the short end of the stick. Even its political parties consist of microscopic coalitions welded together by a few influential figures for temporary periods of time.
All that chaos can temporarily coalesce together in the face of a crisis, but the crisis is usually a war. Iran's nuclear program and the threat of nuclear annihilation haven't done it yet. Instead a temporary unity government between Likud and Kadima was built on both sides playing the other over the Haredi draft in a display of incredible political cynicism.
But there is psychological safety in ignoring real problems. Bashing Haredim on the dole is easy; but doing the same thing to the Muslims, who don't report income or pay taxes, is dangerous because it comes too close to a real national problem. Going on about your children being shot at because of the settlers (who nevertheless are a dominant presence in the military) is safe, but talking about the destructive political interests that ceded portions of the West Bank and Gaza to Islamic terrorists is a dangerous topic. Like the Muslim benefits topic, it's dangerously close to being illegal because it deals with an actual grave national problem.
Israel's existential problems have to be ignored because solving them is too difficult and requires challenging the entire system of authority and its embedded assumptions. Internal warfare is safer than fighting external enemies, in the way that all family squabbles are safer than pushing back against the outside world. The Schorim, the Ultra-Orthodox black sheep, are the safest target because they are unfamiliar enough to be alien, but close enough to still be family.
Having a large military is not useful in and of itself. Not if it is as badly equipped and prepared as it was in the Second Lebanon War. Not if the political leadership allows American pressure to tie its hands behind its back, as during the Yom Kippur War. And not if the soldiers and officers have been chosen for their willingness to obey orders from the Supreme Court, rather than an awareness that they are fighting for their land and their people's survival.
Israel's true war does not require a draft, so much as a determination to face the future, because at some point the red line will be reached and its enemies will make a final bid for its destruction. That war will depend less on the number of men that Israel can put in the field and more on its willingness to fight for its survival.