Secular Draft-Dodging Up

While secular politicians tend to accuse religious Israelis of draft-dodging, a new study shows that over 20% of secular Jews avoid service.

Maayana Miskin , | updated: 21:46

IDF soldiers
IDF soldiers
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Politicians on the political left have often criticized hareidi-religious society over low rate of IDF enlistment. However, a study published this week in the Hebrew-language daily Maariv shows that enlistment is an issue in secular society as well, with more than 21% of secular youth avoiding service.

Women are more likely than men to evade service, with more than 45% reporting that they are unable to enlist. The most common reason for exemption was religious observance – 35% of women from secular homes said they could not serve in the IDF because it would conflict with the level of their religious lifestyle. In comparison, only 21.3% of women from secular backgrounds were released from service for religious reasons in 1991.

Army officials estimate that 6-8% of the women claim they cannot serve due to religion but not religiously observant at all. In recent years, the IDF has begun to crack down on what it considers false claims of religious observance, and has caught about 1,000 women whom it claims lied about their observance; many were caught thanks to the social networking site Facebook, which allowed IDF officers to see that the women's profiles had been updated on the Sabbath. 

Religious women are not required to serve in the army, but the level of observance required for qualifying as "religious" is not defined. Many choose to join the National Service, in which they do much-needed civilian volunteer projects for one or two years.

The Chief Rabbinate has said that due to the problems of immodesty in the armed services, and the fact that there are enough male soldiers to fill their places, they would prefer to see all girls exempt from the army.

The percentage of secular men who escaped the draft for health-related reasons had dropped slightly in 2010, with only 5.5% stating they could not serve for medical or psychological reasons, compared to 6.3% in 2009. IDF officials credited more stringent rules regarding exemptions for the drop.

Other reasons for failure to enlist included difficulty adjusting, a criminal background, and moving to live outside Israel.

In total, 66% of men and women from secular homes who were drafted in 2010 enlisted in the IDF, while one third said they were unable to serve.

Religious Enlistment
In the religious-Zionist community, motivation for military service is high among men. Religious Zionists are disproportionately likely to become officers.

While enlistment is low in the hareidi sector, there has been interest in some IDF programs geared toward hareidi soldiers. The most well-known such program is Nahal Hareidi (Netzach Yehuda), a battalion established in 1999 that has grown from just 30 soldiers in its first year to more than 1,000.

'Treat' for IDF Reservists: Performance by Draft Dodger
The IDF-sponsored group B'Hatzdaa, which benefits those who serve in the IDF reserves, angered reservists this week when it offered as a treat reduced-price tickets to see musician Aviv Gefen – who himself evaded IDF service.

“It's absurd that an organization for reservists is giving publicity to a singer whose values are the total opposite of the values motivating reservists,” one female reservist soldier wrote in a letter to Knesset Members. Moreover, she explained, Gefen has gone beyond draft-dodging to openly criticizing the army.

Gefen has stated that he was unable to serve in the IDF due to back problems.




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