Israeli Army Mulls Revising Draft Exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Men

A committee named by IDF Chief Aviv Kochavi to examine distorted statistics published last year about the draft is due to submit their report to the defense minister on Tuesday

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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The IDF recruitment office in Jerusalem, in December 2019.
The IDF recruitment office in Jerusalem, in December 2019.Credit: Emil Salman
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The IDF should revise its policy of granting draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men by lowering the age at which those exemptions are granted, a committee chosen by army chief Aviv Kochavi suggested.  

The panel was appointed to examine the issue of distorted statistics published late last year about ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

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The exemptions from compulsory conscription for yeshiva students has had a negative impact on the ability of these men to enter the job market, and the panel believes that the government and military should give thorough consideration to curtail the policy, Haaretz has learned. This is a sweeping recommendation that to some extent even exceeds the panel’s mandate.

In their report being handed on Tuesday to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, the panel headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Roni Numa said a new model guided by this approach would make it possible for the army to obtain the necessary funding from the Finance Ministry, making it possible to develop attractive military service tracks and appropriate compensation for those serving.

Exemptions from service are currently granted to ultra-Orthodox men at the age of 24, and as a result, many ultra-Orthodox youths stay in yeshiva instead of getting jobs.

The panel believes that enlisting thousands of ultra-Orthodox recruits after many are married with children might actually damage the principle of equality, as these soldiers receive salaries and service conditions immeasurably greater that those provided to other soldiers, most of whom are drafted at 18.

The committee has also urged a reexamination of the people's army model in Israel, the principle behind the country's universal conscription policy.

Kochavi appointed the committee in December, following a report from Kan public broadcaster journalist Carmela Menashe, saying that statistics about ultra-Orthodox enlistment had been systematically inflated by erroneously categorizing recruits as ultra-Orthodox in figures submitted to the government and the Knesset.

Menashe suggested that this was done so that the army would appear to be meeting annual minimum quotas under the law for Haredi enlistment. 

The committee's report, due for a more comprehensive publication later this week, places major blame on senior officers in the army's manpower directorate for the statistics error.

The panel notes the difficulty in defining who is Haredi for statistical purposes, but finds that a substantial number of the recruits classified as ultra-Orthodox did not live a Haredi lifestyle while they served in the military. In addition, the committee found that the tally of Haredi recruits was carried out unprofessionally, sometimes involving major negligence.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets with ultra-Orthodox soldiers in 2018.Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO

But the panel did not find evidence that commanders had directly ordered that the data be skewed. The committee said it viewed the issue as a serious one but did not find evidence to support suspicions that these inaccuracies were done as a result of political pressure, or for financial motives – to obtain more funds for drafting members of the Haredi community.

In a response for this article, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said: “The report has not yet been completed. At this stage, the committee examining [the matter] has presented its conclusions several times to the chief of staff and the chief of staff has directed that additional data be gathered.”

Once the report has been completed, including “personal conclusions, the entire report will be presented to the public with full transparency by the weekend,” the unit said.

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