National service plan riles Israeli Arabs


ISRAELI ARABS have reacted angrily to plans by the government to introduce compulsory community service as part of a Bill to ensure that all citizens serve in the army.

Under the plans, Israeli Arabs would be asked to perform community service and would not be required to join the army. They make up 20 per cent of Israel’s population and are exempt from military service, although many Bedouin enlist.

Most Israeli males are drafted into the military for three years at age 18, while women serve for two years.

The Bill, expected to be introduced next month, aims to spread the burden of military service among all sections of the population, including the ultra-Orthodox, who are mainly exempt.

The focus of the new legislation, which was made necessary when the high court earlier this year ruled that exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox were illegal, was supposed to be enlisting religious Jews. However, right-wing members of the parliamentary panel examining the issue insisted Israel’s Arab citizens should also be required to contribute to the state.

Yisrael Beiteinu, led by controversial foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, and a smaller right-wing party withdrew from the committee when it appeared that Israeli Arabs would be exempted.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Arab Knesset members: “Like the ultra-Orthodox, you must embrace the new reality; Israelis must all share the burden equally in a fair manner.”

They reacted angrily, claiming that the community was discriminated against, did not receive a fair share of the budget and therefore should not be forced into community service. “Arabs don’t have to be the victims of the Jewish war between Lieberman and Netanyahu,” Arab politician Ahmed Tibi said. Ayman Odeh, a member of the Israeli Arab Follow-up Committee, noted that Arabs were not represented on the Knesset panel examining the issue.