ashkenazi - Tomer Appelbaum - November 12 2010
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi on Tuesday said that all Israelis, including Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox, should be obligated to do civilian service.

According to Ashkenazi, half of Israeli students currently enrolled in the first grade would not serve in the army when they reach the military draft age of 18.

Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Ashkenazi said that that the IDF should be permitted to decide who will be drafted to the army, with the rest being sent to serve in various rescue services.

"There is no reason that a young Arab from Umm al-Fahm cannot serve in the firefighting service," he said.

As the result of a manpower shortage in the IDF, the army plans to pull 10,000 soldiers working in Shin Bet, Mossad, and the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and return them to the army, Ashkenazi said. He added that he believes the government should revoke the exemption given to the ultra-Orthodox at the age of 22, and raise it to the age of 24.

Earlier this week, Ashkenazi expressed opposition to a proposed bill that would provide full military exemptions to most ultra-Orthodox men in exchange for alternative work in civilian service.

"In general, we are in favor of incorporating Haredim into the military, and, if possible, in the job market. This is important," he told hundreds of ultra-Orthodox students at Ono Academic College on Sunday.

He continued, "Our concern lies with providing the exemption [to army service]. We think that the age for exemption should be 24-25, or younger for individuals with children. Equality is important here. For instance, you have a community of academics that enter army service at age 22-23. Why shouldn't they, too, enjoy an exemption?"