Lip-service to service: the Knesset debates over civic national service in Israel, 1977–2007

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This article explores the social and political dynamics behind the various legislative proposals to establish a civic national service programme in Israel, and the role of Israel’s High Court as a catalytic force for changing policy on this controversial issue. The idea of civic national service for those not inducted into the Israel military has been a controversial issue in Israel since the early years of the state. While Jews and Druze were inducted into the armed forces, Israeli Arabs, religious women and ultra-orthodox yeshiva students were either exempted or deferred from service. Members of Knesset primarily from small parties in the opposition proposed private member bills to establish an alternative civic service for those not serving in the army; however, Israel’s governments rejected these proposals and only in the case of religious Zionist women did the government establish a voluntary programme. Political considerations and coalition politics as well as an interest in protecting the unrivalled predominance of the military (IDF) in Israeli society led successive Israeli governments to maintain the status quo. Only the intervention of the High Court obliged the government to review its policy and take action.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-149
Number of pages24
JournalIsrael affairs
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2016


  • Civic service
  • Israel High Court
  • Israeli Arabs
  • legislation
  • military service
  • national service
  • private member legislation
  • religious-Zionist women
  • ultra-orthodox


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