Ashkenazi: More Draft Deferrals Next Year, Not This Year

The Israel Defense Forces will increase the number of slots available next year for high school graduates who want to defer their mandatory military service to spend a year volunteering or attending a pre-military academy, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said yesterday.

The quota for this year will remain unchanged, however.

Ashkenazi's statement, made at a Jerusalem high school yesterday, came after a Haaretz report last month that the number of deferrals would be frozen prompted a flurry of complaints from the public. Early this month, more than 150 high-school students from the Upper Galilee demonstrated against the freeze.

"There's a limit to the quota level," Ashkenazi said in response to a pre-approved question posed by students at the school. "Imagine that everyone wants to defer military service. We decided this year to limit the number of spots because we have a shortage of people. I think we now have a reasonable quota level, but we don't oppose a year of [community] service, and next year we will reexamine the issue and add some [spots]."

The outgoing army chief has been spreading the word about the planned change, making similar comments during a meeting with a Noar Ha'oved Vehalomed youth group two weeks ago.

But while Ashkenazi repeatedly said yesterday that the quota level would be raised, the IDF Spokesman's Office was more restrained.

"In light of the recruitment situation and the personnel gaps in the IDF's order of battle, quotas for draft deferrals will not be decreased, and if a recruitment increase is forecast, quotas may be increased, as the chief of staff said today," the spokesman's office said in a statement.

The IDF has been annually increasing its quotas for the past several years to keep up with the growing number of deferral requests. The rate of requests increased significantly between 2004 and 2009, when 4,800 Israelis were granted a deferral. But as the annual number of new recruits dropped - partly due to exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox - the army says it couldn't keep raising the number of draft deferrals.

According to an IDF count, this means hundreds of Israelis, most of them secular, who want to spend the year after high school volunteering or studying will not be permitted to do so. Officials at pre-military academies and in youth movements and volunteer organizations said the number was closer to several thousand.

Some 2,000 students currently attend pre-military academies, and they are evenly split between religious and secular academies. About 2,000 more students spend their pre-army year doing volunteer work.