Best columns: International
Religion is no excuse to dodge the draft
The days when Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews could leave the country’s defense to other citizens may soon be over, said Ben-Dror Yemini. In 1949, Israel exempted Haredi yeshiva students from compulsory military service to help refill the ranks of Torah scholarship, which had been devastated during the Holocaust. At the time there were only 400 fulltime seminary students, but today—because of their high birth rate—the ultra-Orthodox make up 10 percent of the population, and more and more are attending yeshiva. Arab Israelis are also largely exempt from military service, so if nothing is done, in a little more than a decade barely half of Israelis will serve. The Haredim claim their prayers help keep Israel safe, and to secure their political support, spineless prime ministers, Benjamin Netanyahu included, have deferred to them. But the exemption doesn’t wash with the public, which has long clamored for “equality in sharing the burden.” Finally, in a nearly unanimous verdict, the Supreme Court has voted to strike down the exemption. The danger remains that legislators could reinstate it, because just a handful of votes in parliament could tip the scales. Let’s hope our politicians stand firm. “Waiving an equal share of the civic duty is unconstitutional and undemocratic.”
What are the police hiding?
It’s starting to look like a cover-up, said Río Negro. In early August, Argentinian activist Santiago Maldonado disappeared in Patagonia while taking part in a protest for the indigenous Mapuche people. The Mapuche have been fighting for years against the exploitation of their ancestral lands by Italian clothing company Benetton, which raises sheep for wool on the territory. Police fired rubber bullets at the protesters and drove most of them into the Chubut River. The majority made it across, but witnesses say they saw military police beat Maldonado, 28, and force him into a van. Police deny those claims, but keep changing their story. An investigation into Maldonado’s disappearance has found omissions and alterations in police files, particularly relating to the movements of police on that day. The incomplete information has led to outrageous delays, since if it is not known which officers were in the area, those officers can’t be interviewed and their vans can’t be searched for DNA evidence— which by now has surely been washed away. Yet the judge in the case seems curiously incurious about police intransigence, saying “the most reasonable hypothesis” is that Maldonado drowned in the all-but-dried-up Chubut. For Argentines, the case may remain “one more tragedy without answers.”