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From ‘Atchalta Parliament’: The Haredim's Diminished Sense of 'Citizenship'

The tragedy of October 7th didn't result in the government's downfall. Yet, it appears that following Defense Minister Galant's announcement that the security apparatus will not promote the enlistment bill without a consensus within the coalition, the matter of Haredi conscription into the IDF could potentially lead to such an outcome.

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In the immediate aftermath of October 7th, the Israeli media lauded the substantial volunteerism of the Haredi community towards the war effort, a sentiment echoed by international media outlets (see NYT article). However, as the media spectacle waned, the stark reality emerged: according to the IDF's official statistics, the tally of Haredi enlistees has remained constant, in spite of intensified attempts by the security apparatus to recruit them. Predominantly, the Haredi society does not partake in the existential conflict, notwithstanding the significant number of Haredim engaging in volunteer work with ZAKA and other organizations. The event on October 7th was monumental in history, yet it failed to shift the paradigm within the Haredi public.

Regarding sense of 'Citizenship' within the Haredi Community

The Haredi populace spans a diverse array of sects, with a non-uniform stance towards the state. Nonetheless, it's broadly accurate to assert that Haredim exhibit a reduced sense of "citizenship," indicative of their restrained sense of duty and allegiance towards the state and the Israeli collective. A majority do not perceive themselves as integral to the Israeli narrative, nor do they feel a sense of “ownership” over the Zionist endeavor. Despite their political engagement, the state is perceived by the Haredim as a potential disruptor to their self-governance under the stewardship of their spiritual leaders. The bulk of Haredi political engagement bypasses macro-policy or national economic debates, with their right-wing alignment predominantly rooted in identity politics rather than ideological conviction.

This detachment from the Israeli collective is further reflected in their leaders' reaction to the recent Moody's downgrading of Israel's credit rating. Despite the report's veiled critique of the coalition sectoral spending (a substantial portion benefitting the Haredi community), the Haredi leadership's response was primarily to the Prime Minister's decision to address the report on Shabbat. With demographic projections estimating that Haredim will constitute a quarter of Israel's population by 2050, the ramifications of this attitude spell trouble for the nation's future.

Short-term Consequences

  • The Haredi community is unlikely to independently develop a full sense of citizenship, including IDF enlistment. Absent a definitive call to action from other service-contributing communities, a shift in dynamics is improbable.

Haredim soldiers
  • In this discourse, Religious Zionism stands as a pivotal sector, exemplifying the amalgamation of Torah study with undertaking the national duty, bolstered by the Religious Zionism party's influence over the Haredi segment within the right-wing coalition. The considerable loss of life among this group during the conflict has indeed sparked debate within religious Zionist media circles. However, it remains uncertain whether the Religious Zionism party will commit fully to this cause, particularly as its most notable representatives, including Smotrich and Ben Gvir, lack significant personal military service themselves, and are likely prioritizing ideological loyalty over equitable justice.

  • Without an evolved sense of citizenship among the Haredim, pushing for equitable service contribution, especially through compulsion, would be unwise, potentially leading to unrest. Nevertheless, fostering broader engagement in national service duties is unavoidable.

  • Should negotiations with Haredi leadership falter, the state must consider ceasing its financial support for the Haredi sector's religious studies programs as an alternative to coercion. This approach might not directly lead to increased enlistment, but it would necessitate, at a minimum, their integration into the labor market, thereby enhancing their economic contribution to Israeli society.

Broader Perspective

  • Amidst societal polarization, civil society endeavors tirelessly to forge a new Israeli narrative, one that encompasses all societal factions. Unfortunately, no narrative has emerged that resonates broadly within the Haredi sector while also laying the groundwork for a refreshed national narrative.

  • However, it is feasible to achieve what Atchalta describes as "constructive tribalism": a newly agreed upon optimal equilibrium among diverse communities, rejuvenating the concept of “mamlachtiyut”. Further discussion on this will follow.

Given a unique historical context, the opportunity to cultivate a more cohesive society presents itself, one that should not be diluted by half-hearted compromises.

* The insights presented herein were initially broached at the 'Atchalta Parliament,' a gathering of civil leaders convened last week (and periodically thereafter) to deliberate on issues pertinent to Atchalta's mission. Yet, the conclusions drawn reflect solely Atchalta's viewpoint. Follow us on LinkedIn and read more about our Parliament.


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