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‘Israelis Pay to Get Discharged From the Army on Mental Health Grounds’

A senior IDF official described this week the growing numbers of men who do not serve, and the army fears it will only get worse

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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A military enlistment center in Tel Hashomer, November 23, 2020.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

At the end of November, Haaretz revealed disturbing data for the military: one of every eight of men eligible will not be drafted to the military this year after receiving an exemption on mental health grounds.

This year, 11.9 percent of draft-age men will get such an exemption, an increase of 50 percent in two years.The military attributes this to a rise in anxiety diagnosed in young people, but also to a decrease in motivation to serve, and is apprehensive that the trend will be aggravated next year because of instability caused by the coronavirus crisis.

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The General Staff is examining several ideas to address the development; one of them is that being assigned a medical profile of 21 (the lowest possible) because of mental health issues will not necessarily lead to an automatic exemption, but rather allow service without bearing arms, for example.

The chairman of the State Control Committee of the Knesset, lawmaker Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid, convened the committee this week to consider the issue. Brig. Gen. Amir Vadmani, head of the personnel directorate’s planning and research department in the military, confirmed the data and told the committee that in addition, 11 percent of the men do not complete their full conscript service.

Meanwhile, the number of ultra-Orthodox potential draftees who receive an exemption on religious grounds has surged to 16 percent, largely because of the natural increase among the Haredi population. But Haredim who don’t attend yeshivas also have ways to exempt themselves from service. It turns out that 2.94 percent of Haredim in each callup are discharged because they receive the extreme diagnosis of mental psychosis – 17 times greater than in the general population.

According to Vadmani, an industry of exemptions has developed, with the aid of psychiatrists. “People pay 1,500 shekels ($460) and get authorization of their mental unfitness to serve,” he said. “It’s difficult for us to cope with authorizations from a qualified expert, who in some cases even comes originally from the military system.”

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi has ordered the military to work to bring the scale of the exemptions down to 10 percent among men next year, Vadmani added. He further said that the army has in some cases reported suspicions that the draft was being evaded in this way to the police, but nothing has been done. “The model of the ‘people’s army’ is no longer valid with these numbers,” he acknowedged.

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