Pilots' Course Mostly Secular

The religious Zionist sector has yet to 'conquer' the IAF Pilots' Course. Stats for latest course show just 2% of the graduates are religious.

Gil Ronen , | updated: 10:37

Pilots' Course Graduation
Pilots' Course Graduation
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Israel Air Force published statistics about the graduates of the Winter 2009 Pilots' Course. They show that the course is still overwhelmingly dominated by secular soldiers.

Two percent of the graduates are religious, and another 16% define themselves as traditional. This is in contrast to other elite units of the IDF, where knit-kippah wearing soldiers make up 25% to 40% of the soldier and officer corps. Regarding the ground forces, it is generally accepted that the religious Zionists have taken the place of the 'kibbutzniks,' or sons of the kibbutz communities – the socialist communal agricultural villages of Israel – who used to be backbone of the IDF's elite units.

Five percent of the latest Pilots' Course graduates are 'kibbutzniks,' up from 2008, when there were no kibbutzniks at all among the Pilots' Course graduates. These statistics marks a meaningful downward shift: In the 1980s, about 30% of Pilots' Course graduates were kibbutzniks, and their proportion went down to about 20% in the late 1990s.

Kippahs hit a glass ceiling?
The proportion of kibbutzniks has dwindled in the IDF's officer corps as well. Less than 5% of recent IDF Officers' Course graduates were kibbutzniks, while over 25% wore knit kippahs. However, while the proportion of religious soldiers is growing in the ground forces, it does not seem to be doing so in the air. There are different opinions as to the reason. An article last year in the now-defunct daily newspaper HaTzofeh determined that the number of religious pilot cadets was shrinking. It speculated that there may be an intentional policy of keeping the religious out of the IDF's most prestigious unit, but did not have conclusive proof.  

In recent years the pilots' terms of service have been changed to include the acquisition of a bachelor's degree. 49% of the 2009 Pilots' Course graduates chose an academic track in Economics and Management; 20% chose Politics, Government and Management; 19% chose Mathematics and Computer Science and 12% chose Management of Information Systems. Pilots serve three years' of regular service and another nine years in the professional standing army (Tzva Keva).

Other statistics from the course: 63% are from central Israel, 28% from the north, and 9% from the south. 54% live in cities, 30% are from small communities, and 7% are from 'moshav' agricultural settlements. Five percent were not born in Israel. 88% studied in a math/science track in high school, 16% in the humanities and 9% in art, music and theater.