Following Haaretz Report, IDF Upping Quotas for Gap-year Volunteers

The Israel Defense Forces will work to increase over the next few years the quotas of draft postponements for those wanting to volunteer for a gap year between high school and army service, or to enroll in a pre-military college.

The move comes after Haaretz recently reported that the IDF had not intended to raise the quota in the near future.

That decision was explained yesterday by the head of planning and logistics in the IDF logistics department, Brig. Gen. Amir Rogovsky.

"In 2004, we embarked on a five-year plan to increase the quotas for volunteers and pre-military college graduates, understanding their contribution to the military is considerably greater than that of ordinary conscripts," Rogovsky said. "The plan concluded in 2009. This year we reached a record number of draft postponments, and added on a few dozen extra even though we didn't officially increase the quota."

In 2009, some 4,800 high school graduates were allowed to postpone their military service by a year to do volunteer work, to study at pre-military colleges or to join Nahal groups (a branch of service in which soldiers combine active duty with work on outlying settlements or outposts ).

Rogovsky said the IDF decided to reject requests to repeat the five-year plan due to the declining number of conscripts. However, he said he will try to add in some new quotas to the IDF's yearly logistics planning process.

"We'll try to increase them where we can, and I can certainly promise that the quotas won't drop," Rogovsky said.

The logistics department does not anticipate a rise in conscription until 2013 at the earliest, and sources in the department stress that the quota shortage applies only to men, needed to fill combat units, and that hundreds of quotas for women were not even met.

The army's explanation was met with disbelief by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima ), who chairs a team at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the implementation of the "Tal Law," which concerns the drafting of ultra-Orthodox men to the IDF. Plesner said he was "surprised" there was a shortage of young people who do join the IDF in the end, while the complete exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox males were constantly increasing.

"It's difficult to understand the values and reasons behind this policy," said Plesner.

IDF data indicates that motivation to complete meaningful military service and a desire to enlist in officers' and commanders' courses was found to be much higher among young people who had volunteered or studied prior to their service than among any other group in the army.

"Some fantastic people miss out completely on the volunteering year because of the quota," said Yair Glasman, 18, from Kibbutz Afikim, who is currently volunteering in the Nitzana youth village. "They're not draft dodgers - on the contrary, they are coming with the best intentions of giving more of themselves. You've got to remember that [through such programs] the army gets people who are more mature, with stronger values, and society later gets better citizens."

He said he and the 17 other volunteers in Nitzana haven't been home in a month. "We're not sitting idle here. We're working hard, all the time," he said. "I wish that anyone who wants to could do a gap year. Israeli society will only benefit from it."