The Contributors to the State Bill: Contributing to the Jewish-Arab Divide

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In an op-ed in Maariv, Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer and Attorney Talya Steiner warn that the veteran's benefit bill under consideration by the Knesset, which ostensibly is intended to extend benefits to those who have contributed to the State, discriminates against Israel's Arab citizens, who are exempt from military service.

On October 27, 2013, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will debate the veteran's benefits bill that is being promoted by MK Yariv Levin, which is entitled "The Benefits Bill for those who Contribute to the State." Compared to the outrageous original bill, which encouraged discrimination and exclusion in a wide range of areas, the draft currently under consideration includes a small number of benefits that would be given to veterans of the Israeli army and national service. These benefits include priority for student housing and advantages in state tenders for the allocation of land for residential housing.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with granting special privileges to citizens who serve in the armed forces. However, caution is appropriate, since there is a point at which compensating those who serve in the army becomes a means of discriminating against those groups who don't serve in the army. In our opinion, the best way to reward soldiers is by raising their salaries and increasing the discharge grants that they receive upon completion of their service. This would make it easy to quantify the compensation and to divide it between all those who complete their army service in a manner that is truly egalitarian, such that they all benefit from it equally.

In reality, however, Israelis who serve in the military are given a variety of benefits over the years, both directly and indirectly. The Absorption of Discharged Soldiers Law currently gives those who have served in the army a wide range of benefits and grants, as do additional provisions and arrangements. For this reason, if an individual member of Knesset proposes a private bill that adds a new benefit to existing benefits, some kind of justification must be provided for the need for the additional benefit. Otherwise, a race may ensue, in which members of Knesset compete to enact laws "for the benefit of soldiers," since this populist legislation will increase their esteem in the eyes of the public. In the previous Knesset alone, approximately 20 private bills of this nature were submitted. MK Yariv Levin's bill does not present a factual basis; no examination was conducted that revealed a real need or deficiency in the existing system of benefits.

The proposed bill is accompanied by offensive rhetoric, which reveals the bill's underlying motivation. While the bill's name presents it as legislation that is "for" those who contribute to the state, its explanatory notes make it clear that the legislation is primarily "against." The explanatory notes state that there is a group in Israel that chooses not to serve in the military, but benefits from affirmative action laws. This makes it clear that the bill is directed primarily against Israel's Arab population, although it affects other groups, such as the ultra-Orthodox, as well. The explanatory notes also parallel the slogan "without duties, there are no rights," which starred in the last election campaign—a slogan that was invoked by parties such as Otzma L'Yisrael and was specifically directed against Israel's Arab population.

The use of this rhetoric casts a dark shadow on the legislation. Portraying Arab citizens as shirking their responsibility to protect the country is misleading. Arab citizens do not evade the draft. They do not serve in the army because ever since the establishment of the State of Israel, the explicit policy of the Israel Defense Forces has been to exempt Arabs from military service. The Jewish state does not want to put Israeli Arabs in the impossible situation in which Jews in the Diaspora found themselves in the past—fighting on both sides of the border, brother against brother. In recent years, various initiatives have been proposed to integrate Israeli Arabs voluntarily in a civilian service framework. Although this is not a simple matter, we must continue to try to resolve this issue directly and transparently through dialogue with the leaders of the Arab community, while recognizing its complexity and sensitivity.The aggressive rhetoric against the Arab community that accompanies the veteran's benefit bill certainly will not promote the integration of Arabs in the civilian service.

The truth must be told: The veteran's benefit bill only incrementally benefits veterans, and is primarily a continuation of the last Knesset's trend of collective disparagement of Israel's Arab citizens, which sweepingly portrayed them all as disloyal to the state. Incitement against Israel's Arab population is not patriotism; it is dangerous provocation. Accordingly, commitment to the State of Israel and concern for its welfare demands that we oppose the legislation.

Related Legal Opinion

On October 27, 2013, Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, Attorney Talya Steiner, and Attorney Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute submitted a legal opinion to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, in which they expressed their opposition to the "Benefits Bill for those who Contribute to the State." 

Read the legal opinion (Hebrew)

Attorney Talya Steiner is a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer is Vice President of Research at the Israel Democracy Institute.

This article was originally published in Hebrew in Maariv on October 27, 2013.