The Draft-dodging State of Tel Aviv

The city by the sea broadcasts a certain alienation from Israel's existential needs, and this is not good for either the city or the country of which it is part.

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Israel Harel
Israel Harel

In the uproar sparked by the dirty battle over who will be the next police commissioner, little attention was devoted to a recent news item that was much less juicy, but certainly no less important: About 50 percent of all men aged 18 to 40 - in other words, those men obligated to do compulsory military service and reserve duty - do not actually serve.

Israelis enjoying some winter sunshine on a Tel Aviv beach.Credit: Nir Kafri

Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, who heads the Israel Defense Forces' Personnel Directorate, warned that if this trend continues, draft-dodgers will comprise 60 percent of the total in another decade. And Tel Aviv, the city in which two founders of the Hebrew defense force, Eliyahu Golomb and Dov Hoz, lived and studied (in Gymnasia Herzliya's first class ), resembles the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak in its percentage of draft-dodgers.

Haredi draft-dodging is a well-known phenomenon, as is their chutzpah. Evasion even earns them financial benefits. But it now seems that secular draft-dodging is on the rise as well - and it, too, is backed by "rabbis" and "spiritual" leaders.

Just as the Haredim have invented a "religious" rationalization to absolve themselves of the duty to defend their people and their country, so have the secular Haredim, who include actors, film directors and academics: They invent 1,001 ideologies to absolve themselves of any responsibility to the collective. And they too - though naturally only after excoriating those Haredi "parasites" - take handouts from the state whose very existence more than a few of them oppose.

Only three residents of Tel Aviv, Amos Harel reported in Haaretz recently, currently serve as company commanders, though the first Hebrew city has more than 400,000 residents. Yet the West Bank community of Bruchin, with fewer than 600 residents, is home to six company commanders, and the West Bank town of Eli, with some 2,000 residents, is home to five.

Ram Cohen, the principal of Tel Aviv's Ironi Aleph high school, wrote that young men from the settlements "view the army as a tool to maintain Israel's control over the occupied territories." It's no wonder that the percentage of students choosing to serve in combat units among graduates of the school run by this slogan-ridden, superficial educator is much lower even than the Tel Aviv norm.

And Gymnasia Herzliya, which produced so many fighters and commanders in the past - including current IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi - is trailing along with Ironi Aleph. After all, its principal, Zeev Dagani, has a similar political agenda (for instance, he opposed allowing IDF officers to meet with students at his school ).

Most of the draft-dodgers from Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv studied at specific educational institutions - the former in a certain type of yeshiva, the latter in certain high schools. And these are the results. Though teenagers are supposed to be rebellious, it turns out that these students are quite conformist. And this is especially true because the broader environment, especially in a place like Tel Aviv, also creates a certain atmosphere.

The religious Zionist community is proud of its young people's high motivation. And that's fine. But it also indulges in schadenfreude over the educational failures of other communities. And that is morally unacceptable. It should be mourning, not rejoicing.

That's not only because the religious Zionist community's shoulders are not broad enough to bear the bulk of the security burden and never will be. But rather, because anyone who feels any responsibility toward the country's future should be concerned that some of the old elites - the kibbutz movement, for example - have changed their tune and no longer views Israel's security at their top priority the way they once did.

Granted, Tel Aviv ranks only 53rd in the Personnel Directorate's draft ranking of Israeli cities (even the Bedouin town of Rahat tops it! ). But in Maccabim-Reut and Modi'in, which differ little from Tel Aviv in socioeconomic terms, the situation is totally different. The high school serving the teenagers of these towns is in first place nationwide in the percentage of graduates serving in combat units and becoming officers. Hod Hasharon ranks second, followed by Yavneh in third place. So the reason for Tel Aviv's low motivation clearly isn't either its secular population or its high standard of living.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai must intervene in what is going on at his city's schools, and especially the one where he was once a well-regarded principal: Gymnasia Herzliya. It's for good reason that his city is nicknamed "the state of Tel Aviv": It broadcasts a certain alienation from Israel's existential needs. And this is not good for either the city or the country of which it is part.



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