In Stop-loss Measure, IDF Refuses to Up Army Deferrals for National Service

Hardest hit will be secular middle class; critics decry 'short-sighted' measure.

The Israel Defense Forces has decided not to increase its quota for the number of teens it allows to perform national service or study at a premilitary academy in the next few years, citing an ongoing decline in the number of recruits.

The army will increase the deferment quota only for youngsters from the periphery and needy families, while "freezing" the quota for teens coming from established families.

defferal - Archive: Dror Artzi - November 23 2011
Archive: Dror Artzi

Consequently, hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of Israelis, most of them secular, who wish to spend the year after high school studying or volunteering will not receive the necessary deferment from the army. They will not be able to defer their military service.

Some 5,000 teens had their military service deferred for a year in 2010. Half of them went to premilitary academies and half spent the year doing volunteer work in a Nahal group or a youth village.

But over the past year the IDF and Defense Ministry have objected to increasing the deferments due to a dwindling number of recruits. Officials in youth movements and volunteer organizations, however, maintain that the volunteer activity and studying is beneficial both to society and to the IDF.

"There is no doubt at all that every soldier who has done a year's volunteer work between high school and his recruitment contributes in a completely different way to the army and later as a commander and an officer," says a senior officer who serves as a ground forces instructor.

Senior IDF sources say that over the past seven years, the army has increased the number of deferments continuously until two years ago, when it had no choice but to "freeze" the quota due to fewer recruits and the need to fill combat units.

The IDF personnel directorate and the Defense Ministry decided to increase the number of deferments by a few hundred a year in the next few years, but only for youngsters from needy families who are poorly motivated to serve in the army, in a bid to increase the number of recruits.

Formerly, almost all those who received deferments belonged to middle and higher income families and were highly motivated to serve in the IDF.

"We must first invest in youngsters who may not join the army," a senior defense establishment said. "The people who ask for deferment are those who will join the army anyway."

The Kibbutz Movement's task force coordinates a year's volunteer work for some 700 teens a year before their recruitment to the IDF. Most volunteers serve in youth villages.

"Beyond the teenagers' tremendous contribution during the year's service, they comprise Israel's future leadership," says Yoel Marshak, head of the task force. "This is a year that molds them, gives them tools and turns their military service into something quite different. Freezing the deferments is short-sighted."

"They simply don't understand what a serving elite means," says the head of one of the premilitary academies. "I can understand wanting to increase the motivation to join the army in the periphery, but to deprive those who will serve anyway of the deferment is nothing short of abuse. Besides, it is a blow mainly to the secular premilitary academies because the religious are older and already have large deferment quotas," he says.

The IDF and Defense Ministry commented: "Contrary to the report the quotas have not been changed, nor is there any intention to reduce them or the number of people in the existing volunteering format in the future. If it is possible to enlarge the deferment quotas in the future, it will be done in a way that empowers groups who need it in premilitary academies. This is both a social and security interest."