NY Times On one level, the questions shaking the Israeli political system this week are pragmatic: how many ultra-Orthodox men and Arab citizens should be drafted into the military or national service, over how many years and how should those who resist be penalized?
But the debate over these details masks a more fundamental and fractious one about evolving identity in this still-young state, where a “people’s army” has long been a defining principle, and about the growing cleavage among its tribes.
That is what has brought Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s broad unity coalition to the brink of collapse in recent days, with an Aug. 1 deadline looming to replace a law providing draft exemptions to thousands of men studying in yeshivas that the Supreme Court deemed illegal in February.
“What’s at stake is two cultures, two civilizations,” Professor Stern added, referring to the ultra-Orthodox, known as Haredim, and other Jews here. “These two civilizations used to live in some kind of peace because each one thought that the other is going to disappear eventually. Nowadays I think everybody realizes that the two camps are here to stay, and we have to decide what will be the identity in the public sphere.”