Political Donation will Help Israeli Arabs Volunteer for National Service

Photo by Zainub

Don’t you wish sometimes that politicians would just set aside the their differences and join hands to work on making the world a better place? Isn’t that why they wanted to work in public service to begin with?

Avigdor Lieberman, the heavy hitting leader of Israel’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party, is laying aside his political guns and partnering with Arcadi Gaydamak’s Social Justice Party to promote Israeli Arab volunteering.

Promoting National Service for Israeli Arabs


Yisrael Beiteinu has just donated $128,600 to promote Israeli Arabs’ participation in Israel’s National Service. Reports from the Arab community assert that 76% of Arab youth would like to volunteer, but don’t know how to go about it. There is very little precedent and what with Israel’s often hostile perception of Arabs, it’s hard to get started.

Lieberman states: “These people need to feel wanted here in Israel and not the other way around… the volunteering issue is a crucial one, this kind of volunteer work can bridge gaps between Jews and Arabs and carries a positive message.”

Growing Number of Israeli Arabs in National Service

The number of Israeli Arabs in the National Service (Sherut Leumi) is growing: 2007 has the highest numbers of participation yet. Israeli Arab enlistment has grown almost 100% from 2006 to 2007 with 600 Arabs now serving in Israel’s 12,000 person force. Volunteers typically serve the community directly, working in schools, community centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and other social institutions.

Resistance from the Arab community is high and potential volunteers face expected challenges. Ha’aretz reports:

Still, many Israeli Arabs oppose such volunteering, calling it an attempt by the Jewish establishment to blur the Arab-Palestinian identity of the younger generation and “Israelize” them. Another claim is that the state is using the national service to indirectly recruit Arab youth for a kind of military service.

Who Serves?

The question of national service– be it military or civil– is one that is gaining momentum in Israeli society. The Ivri Committee is expected to announce full compulsory service for all Israelis in their January meeting (currently only 75% of Israelis serve).

Mandating national service will necessitate an expanded and more inclusive approach, given that those who choose to serve in Sherut Leumi are very different than those who choose mainstream military service. National Service volunteers are predominantly women, and often religious, although there are many others who defer military service for a wide array of reasons.

Learn more about National Service: “Serving, but Not in the Army” (15 Q & As from YNetNews).

Lieberman’s Political Reputation

Before concluding, I must add a note about Lieberman to the uninitiated. All else being equal, Lieberman is best known for two things: his outstanding support from Israel’s Russian community and his overwhelming reputation as being anti-Arab. He has previously been accused of: “racist declarations and declarations that harm the democratic character of Israel.”

How Should We Think About This Donation?

In light of Lieberman’s persona, how should we think about this donation?

Whatever Lieberman hopes to gain from this donation and a possible alliance with Gaydamak, increasing Israeli Arabs’ ability to volunteer for Israel will only bring good things. We can be grateful for that.

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3 Responses to Political Donation will Help Israeli Arabs Volunteer for National Service

  1. Shai says:

    In Rabbi Sol Roth’s “Halacha and Politics”, he made the observation that in Jewish communities a person’s rights flow from their obligations. This is to say, that there are rights aside from our rights as human beings that are associated with citizenship, and these rights are realized only when we take upon ourselves the obligations of citizens.

    I recall some examples: Acc. to halacha, a person may not be a witness if he is not a sabbath observer – Another is the right to be called to the Torah or to be counted in a minyan – all these require the person to take upon themselves first to support community institutions like Shabbat, belief in G-d, not be a thief, etc. Thus, all these rights are conditional.

    This different cultural approach to rights is a major matter of disagreement between Jews and Arabs in Israel. MK’s from Arab parties in Israel are always saying that they are citizens and thus have specific rights, and that once they feel these rights have been sufficiently delivered, they will consider fulfilling their obligations.

    This puts the usual “Jewish” approach on its head, and many Jews in Israel thereby find the Arab stance frustrating. Truth is, I think Arab culture is not different from Jewish culture in this regard – but in politics, the Arab MK’s are choosing a “western” rather than oriental standard for how rights should be delivered to press a political point.

    I do believe that if the Arabs were to “step up to the plate” and do national service, it’d vastly change the view most Jews have of them, especially since most Jews only witness Arabs via their Arab MK representatives, who constantly call for abolishing the Hatikvah, the Star in the national flag, advocate the interests of enemy countries, deny the existence of the Temple site under the Dome of the Rock, and call for “indigenous minority” status when Jews feel Jews are indigenous, amongst other things. When you think about who has the most to lose from this happening, you begin to understand why the Arab MK’s are so dead set against Arab youth participation in National Service. Once Arab Israelis become integrated into “Israeliness”, the need for Arab parties will weaken over time, and Arab MK’s will be out of work as Arabs seek representation in one of the general-interest parties.

    Sooner the better, in my view.

  2. thenewjew says:


    No question that responsibility and obligation go hand in hand. Given that many Israeli Arabs will likely be volunteering in communities with mixed populations, I think it will help both groups to become more facile with each other. This is one of the best things I can think of to give ourselves as Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews more dimensionality on a person-to-person level.

    It IS interesting to think about Arab “assimilation” into Israeli society when we look at it through that lens. I know that as a grantwriter, I sometimes ask my communities or groups to provide images that are specifically “Arab” as most Americans can’t tell the difference between the average Israeli– Arab or Jewish– in mainstream dress. Most of the time they tell me they can’t do it. Everyone looks alike. Same tight jeans, low pants, heavy make-up, whatever the cultural cliches of teenage clothing is.

    We have so much to learn from each other, I can’t wait for us to stop messing around and get started.


  3. Shai says:

    Actually, “no question that…” is questioned by the Arab MK’s. It’s no question to us because our values tell us that this is fair. It’s what we’d expect in a state that calls itself a “Jewish state”. But the Arab MK’s don’t want such a state.

    Like you, I do hope that the Arab MK’s are stymied in their attempt to prevent this.

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