Haredim Will Account for 25% of IDF Exemptions Within Decade

Today, 13% of youth who don't do military service go to yeshiva, up from 5% at start of 1990s.

The ultra-Orthodox will make up one-quarter of people who are exempted from the Israel Defense Forces draft within a decade, an IDF human-resources report released Wednesday found.

At the start of the 1990s, it said, just 5 percent of military-age youth not inducted to the army went to study at yeshivas. Today that figure is up to 13 percent.

The figures were presented at a meeting of a Knesset-appointed panel examining the implementation of the Tal Law, aimed at formulating criteria for receiving an exemption from military service and ultimately encouraging more ultra-Orthodox to join the army or do national service.

The law, enacted in 2002, allows yeshiva students over age 22 to take a year off from their studies, during which they can work without being drafted. At the end of that year, the students must choose between returning to full-time studies or shortened national service.

The panel is headed by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), and includes MKs Aryeh Eldad (National Union), Israel Hasson (Kadima), Moshe Matalon (Yisrael Beiteinu), Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and Nissim Zeev (Shas). Also present at the meeting were representatives of the IDF Human Resources Directorate and officials operating national service programs.

"These are worrisome figures," said Plesner. "If this trend continues, within a decade we'll find ourselves in a deep societal crisis, with internal divisions over the value of military service, and the relations between the army and society." Plesner added: "There is a danger to the model of the people's army of the State of Israel as we knew it."

Yesterday, the army reported that among the conscripts of August 2009, interest in joining combat units rose significantly since the same month last year. Still, willingness to join field units perceived as less "prestigious" dropped.

Army officials attributed the trend to the draftees' exposure to the actions of combat units during the Gaza offensive this year. Infantry units continued to hold the greatest appeal among new recruits with combat-eligible health profiles, with 45 percent of conscripts expressing interest.

More than 70 percent of conscripts expressed a desire to join field units, a 4 percent rise over August 2008.

Among infantry units, the Golani Brigade remained the most popular. On average, every available space in the brigade had 4.8 conscripts vying for it.

Second in popularity was the Givati Brigade, with four draftees seeking every open spot, followed by the Nahal Brigade and the Kfir Brigade (the youngest infantry brigade, formed in 2005 and operating mainly in the West Bank).

Higher demand was also registered among the Engineering, Armored and Artillery Corps in August of this year compared with the same month last year, though the Engineering Corps is struggling to fill its ranks with just 0.7 recruits for every available position.

Demand to enter Field Intelligence units, anti-aircraft units, Border Police and Home Front Command units dropped this year in comparison with years previous. But due to the relatively small number of troops needed in those units, demand also outstripped their open positions, with the single exception of the Border Police, with 0.9 conscripts for every open position.