It’s a story all too familiar to those of us in the States. Here in the US, the Bible (t)humpers just ADORE war, unless you happen to want one of them to actually FIGHT in one. In that case, they are all too busy with their Bibles to take some time out to lend a hand towards winning the wars that they all insist Jesus wants us to fight. The rewards that their God has in store for those who fall on the battlefield are generously eschewed by such types, who are more than happy to let someone ELSE collect those Heavenly goodies.

Our Bible-toting cowards are no surprise to any of us anymore. But, I have to admit that I was surprised to learn about THESE cowards, since it is mainly their ideas that have kept their country in a perpetual state of war for decades now.

Yeah, I should have known. But I didn’t. The Internets educated me once more.

 

Among the thousands of Israelis who filled the streets of central Tel Aviv Saturday night to protest the exemption of their ultra-Orthodox countrymen from military service, Yaakov Ben Horim and his best friend were particularly angry.

The two men met 50 years ago, when they served together as combat soldiers during the state of Israel’s infancy.

“We barely knew what the state would look like then – it was, like us, still a child. But we knew that we must serve in the army, if we didn’t serve we wouldn’t have a State,” said Ben Horim. “The idea that a group of Israelis would be exempt – that they would fight to be exempt from serving – would never have occurred to us in those days. But that is because in those days we didn’t know the ultra-Orthodox.”

The issue is one of many, from separating the sexes on buses to tax exemptions for large families, on which secular and religious Israelis have clashed in recent years. At its core is a debate over the role of Judaism in the Jewish State.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews are exempt from the two-to-three year compulsory military service most Israelis serve from age 18. For secular Israelis, the exemptions are one of many perks that the ultra-Orthodox receive from the state.

“They get government funds and all sorts of benefits just for being religious! They get money for studying and praying and for having lots of babies. It’s a drain on the state economy that the rest of us have to make up,” said Shiri Manuel, one of the organizer’s of Saturday’s protest.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders argue that they are serving the State by serving god. Tucked away in the winding alleyways of Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, ultra-Orthodox spent their youths in seminaries studying religious texts. Government policy allows many of them to continue studying their entire lives, by exempting them from many taxes and giving them housing and food subsidies.

“This is a policy that goes back to Israel’s first leaders. I blame them for not for seeing the problem that the ultra-Orthodox would become,” said Ben Horim.

In 1948, just following the declaration of the state, Israel’s first president, David Ben Gurion, struck a deal with the rabbinic leadership of Israel to exempt the orthodox from military service, among other things.

That first year, government registries show that 400 ultra-Orthodox men were exempt from military service. Since then, their power and population has steadily grown. Officials estimate there are now more then 100,000 ultra-Orthodox men of eligible draft age who are currently exempt.

We know Shiri’s pain all too well. We have also seen billions of dollars that could have gone to infrastructure, education, and actually feeding poor people (like the Biblical Christ wanted) instead wind up in the buildings and parking lots of “megachurches.” We have effectively taxpayer-subsidized the preaching of hate, and war, and right-wing politics, by granting enormously profitable conglomerates masquerading as “churches” tax exemptions for the lands they own, the donations they take in, and the stuff they sell. Willard could tell us a lot about how this works, since the Mormon Church is a textbook example of a monolithic megabusiness hiding behind a designation as a church. He could also tell us a lot about how a coward can use religion to shield himself from military service, since that is precisely what he did in the Vietnam era. His “missionary” work in France kept him out of Vietnam quite nicely.

Israel, a country of just a few million people, is not in a position to subsidize 100,000 draft-age people a year, nor can Israel exist for a whole lot longer if those numbers continue to grow. There will be too many chickenhawk freeloaders, and not enough patriots and workers, for the state to continue to exist.

It seems to me that they, as well as WE, had better start thinking hard about what religious freeloaders have done to our societies, and how much more of the damage we can take.

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