Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, Head of Human Resources Branch in the IDF, criticized the religious sector for not sending as many young men as it should to the IDF. Speaking Wednesday at a memorial assembly in Bar Ilan University, Stern – who wears a knit yarmulke himself – had sharp rebukes for both the national-religious and the hareidi-religious sectors.
Stern spoke of what he called "creeping draft evasion," and said that the phenomenon has begun permeating the national-religious camp, "out of ideological considerations and also as a byproduct of the Disengagement."
Stern also said that people who serve in the IDF should receive preferential treatment after their service. He said former soldiers should be preferred over other candidates for academic studies, and mentioned a conversation he once had with the head of Haifa's Technion, who told him that most of the students being accepted for medical studies are Arabs. "We wanted equality so badly that we have hurt equality," he said. "Even when you enroll for Harvard University, they ask you 'what have you done for your country?'."
The 'hesder' yeshivas, which combine religious study with army service, were not spared from Stern's tongue-lashing either. He said too much of their activity, like that of the Nahal Brigade's soldiers, was socially oriented, and that the IDF can no longer afford that in the present situation. "The IDF Chief of Staff has already asked the hesder yeshivas to increase the period of service from 16 months to 24," he told the audience. "Bearing in mind the IDF's needs and the security needs, we think this should be considered positively."
"A seasonal bashing of religious Zionism"
MK Uri Ariel, head of the National Union / NRP faction in the Knesset, reacted to Stern's accusations by saying: "Stern has failed in his job as regards human resources in the IDF, and the matter of draft evaders in particular. He will not succeed in hiding his failures behind a seasonal bashing of religious Zionism, whose finest sons serve in the IDF, well above their relative number in the general population."
There has been very little love lost between Stern and much of the national-religious camp since the Disengagement, which Stern supported. Stern also played a key role in the dismissal of a soldier who refused to shake the hand of then-Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.