National Service Extended to Arabs, Limited for Jewish Women

A first: the Cabinet extends the option of National Service to Arab Israelis. The Education Minister cut National Service options for Jewish girls.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz,

Even as the Cabinet extended the option of National Service to Arab Israelis and other citizens not qualified for military service, Education Minister Yuli Tamir (Labor) has limited the National Service options of religious Jewish girls.
The decision, the first of its kind, projects an additional 500 National Service volunteers every year.

On Sunday, the cabinet voted to establish a government body in the Prime Minister's Office assigned to facilitate National Service - volunteering through civilian organizations - for youths who do not serve in the IDF. The decision, the first of its kind, projects an additional 500 National Service volunteers every year.

The government decision specifically notes that Arab Israelis will be able to choose National Service options in their own, homogeneous communities. Government spokesmen said that this qualification for Arab citizens "will certainly increase their desire to integrate into the project." The current decision does not change the status quo, whereby Arab Israelis are automatically exempt from compulsory military service and from any other form of national service. About 300 Arab volunteers are currently involved in National Service projects.

Sunday's decision will give all National Service volunteers the status of IDF soldiers for the duration of what will be a commitment of at least one year. The volunteers will receive a grant at the end of their period of service, as well as job training in certain cases.

Currently, National Service includes volunteering in hospitals, old age homes, with handicapped Israelis, in schools, in courthouses and in other institutions. In addition, there are National Service opportunities with organizations dedicated to preventing traffic accidents and promoting nature preservation.

The vast majority of the approximately 10,000 young Israelis currently volunteering in the framework of National Service are religious Jewish women who refrain from enlisting to the IDF for reasons of modesty.

Budget Cuts Hit Religious Girls' National Service
As for existing National Service for religious Jewish women, Education Minister Tamir ordered budget cuts that will limit their options in the nation's schools.

Until now, the National Service girls were allowed to help teach Jewish history and culture in Israeli schools, but the latest Education Ministry decision will eliminate funding for those classes from school budgets. Tamir also determined that, in principle, the girls cannot work as assistant teachers because they do not have teaching degrees.

The budget that Education Minister Tamir intends to take away from female National Service volunteers who teach Zionism and Judaism in Israeli schools will be transferred to National Service programs in the Arab sector, according to Anat Rot, the Director of the Union of Centers for Deepening Jewish Identity.
Until now, the National Service girls were allowed to help teach Jewish history and culture.

Speaking on Arutz Sheva Radio, Rot said that the minister intends to make schools that are interested in classes taught by the National Servicewomen pay for the privilege.

Rot denied as baseless the accusations that the National Servicewomen are politically biased. She notes that the young women in the program teach in some 700 schools nationwide, including schools that have a markedly leftist bent and would have immediately sent the teachers packing if they had exhibited right-wing political partisanship.

The Likud faction will initiate a special debate in the Knesset plenum, during the summer recess, on Minister Tamir's planned budget cuts. Party spokesmen said that this step is a direct continuation of the Education Ministry's recent decision to include texts that refer to the War of Independence as "the Disaster" (Nakba) in Arab students' history books.

"The Education Minister's consistent and post-Zionist attempts to disconnect the education system from Judaism and Zionism threaten the value system of the next generation," said Likud Faction Chairman Gideon Sa'ar.

MK Zevulun Orlev of the National Union-National Religious Party bloc called for the sacking of the Education Minister: "A person who injects the Palestinian 'Nakba' narrative into the educational system and prevents National Service women from teaching Judaism and Zionism cannot remain Minister of Education in Israel for even one more day."