Attorney General Menachem Mazuz recently ordered the police to open a criminal investigation against the New Profile organization - the first time a criminal probe has ever been launched against a group that encourages draft dodging.
The probe, launched in response to a request from the Israel Defense Forces, constitutes an intensification of the army's war on draft dodging. It was prompted by concern over the growing extent of this phenomenon. Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit asked Mazuz to order the probe in February, and earlier this month, Mazuz acceded to his request.
New Profile's Web site defines the group's purpose as supplying "detailed and reliable information about the procedures that enable one to obtain an exemption from military service," as well as "moral support" for those seeking such an exemption.
Under Israeli law, "incitement to draft dodging" is a crime in itself, though no group has ever before been investigated for this offense. In addition, however, New Profile is suspected of helping people secure exemptions fraudulently. "The severity of [New Profile's] incitement to draft evasion, which includes convincing [people] to obtain exemptions from service, necessitates opening up an investigation," Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan wrote in a statement informing Mendelblit of Mazuz's decision.
The main reason for the probe's launch is apparently the fact that New Profile's web site tells people what to say to IDF mental health officers to create the impression that they are psychologically unfit for service. In a document entitled "The goal: 21," it details various ways of getting army evaluators to assign the applicant a profile of 21, which is the IDF code for unfit to serve. Many teens say that such advice has helped them in obtaining draft exemptions.
Last summer, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi declared war on draft evasion, in response to data showing that in 2007, almost 28 percent of all draft-age males would not be drafted. Since then, the IDF has tried various tactics: media campaigns aimed at increasing motivation to serve, closer cooperation with high schools and municipalities, and barring artists who did not serve from performing for the troops.
The IDF's Personnel Directorate claims that these efforts, coupled with a stricter attitude on the part of the army's mental health officers, have begun to bear fruit: This year, the proportion of draft-age males who obtained mental-health exemptions fell to 5.1 percent, from 5.5 percent last year, and the number of soldiers who obtained mental-health exemptions during their service also dropped.
Army sources expressed satisfaction with Mazuz's decision. "Thorough legal treatment of this movement is very important to deter evaders and those who urge them to evade," explained one.
IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu termed the decision "another important step" in the war on draft dodging. This war, he added, "must be a joint effort by the IDF, the state authorities and Israeli society in general."
Yuval Azoulay adds: Sergei Sandler, one of New Profile's leaders, said in response: "Our activity is completely legal. We give information to young people about to be drafted about the various procedures open to them, which the army obviously has an interest in hiding. The decision to open an investigation against New Profile contains an element of persecution. Every such decision is ultimately a political decision aimed at shutting our mouths and protecting a certain kind of social order. But if they want to investigate, let them. Our activity is legal; we don't encourage fraud; and we're proud of our activity."
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