Army Says 1 in 4 Israeli Soldiers of Ethiopian Origin Drop Out

Soldiers of Ethiopian extraction are underrepresented as officers, IDF says, with only 2.3 percent going on to become officers in 2013, compared to 9.8 percent of the general population.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Israeli soldiers from the Ethiopian community.
Israeli soldiers from the Ethiopian community.Credit: Moti Milrod
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

One in every four soldiers of Ethiopian origin fail to complete their army service, the Israel Defense Forces told a Knesset committee on Sunday. They are also heavily underrepresented at officer level.

According to the statistics, presented to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Human Resources Subcommittee, one in every six soldiers of the general population drops out of army service and does not complete the required term. In 2013, 16.5 percent of male soldiers and 7.5 percent of female soldiers dropped out. The figures were higher among soldiers of Ethiopian extraction, with 22.8 percent of the men and more than 10 percent of the women dropping out.

This is a two-percent reduction among the men when compared with 2012, but an increase of 1.5 percent among the women. Over the past three years, there has been a general increase in the number of soldiers who enlist in the army but do not complete their term of service. According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, most of the reasons for dropping out are lack of suitability, health problems and emotional problems.

The proportion of men who went on to become officers, as compared with the general population of soldiers, was 9.8 percent in 2013, while that figure was only 2.3 percent among soldiers of Ethiopian origin – roughly one-fifth in comparison to soldiers from the general population. This is an increase of only 0.5 percent over three years. The rate of women soldiers who go on to become officers among the general population is 9.9 percent, while among women of Ethiopian origin it is only 5.4 percent. Compared with 2012, this is a decrease in the number of male soldiers of Ethiopian origin who began officer training, and an increase in the number of female soldiers of Ethiopian origin who began officer training.

Maj. Hila Halpern, head of the department in charge of the integration of soldiers of Ethiopian origin into the army, told MKs at the session, “We are still at a lower point than the rest of the population, but it is better than in the past.”

Subcommittee chairman MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) criticized the defense establishment for not having submitted the data to the subcommittee for an extended period of time, saying this made it difficult to track whether the army’s work in this area was successful.

Army officials were pleased that the percentage of soldiers of Ethiopian origin ranked as special-needs (i.e., results lower than 47 on the pre-army evaluation examination) has decreased over the past three years, and that there has been an increase in the number of troops of Ethiopian origin, both men and women, with a high grade of between 51 and 56.

Army officials also noted a decrease in the number of Ethiopian soldiers being sent to prison. In 2013, 9.1 percent of soldiers of Ethiopian origin (men and women) were sent to prison, as compared with 11 percent in 2012. During the first half of 2014 (January-June), the figure was 6.9 percent.

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