The number of teenagers attending premilitary academies (mechinot) before entering the Israel Defense Forces has nearly doubled in the past eight years. However, a lower percentage of graduates are seeking to become officers, the Defense Ministry said Sunday.
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Most of the growth has been among the “general” premilitary academies, which are either for both religious and secular youth, or solely for secular youths. The academies provide an intensive 10-month program of study, community service and joint living that help participants shape their worldview and contribute to the community, and prepare them for rigorous military service.
According to Defense Ministry data, the number of participants in general and religious premilitary academies in 2008 were about the same: 780 in the general academies; 760 in the religious ones. Since then, several new secular academies have opened and the numbers attending have jumped. Now, the religious academies have 1,200 participants, while the general ones have 1,700.
Each year, the ministry allows a small number of new academies to open. In 2008 there were 32 premilitary academies, most of them religious, while today there are 54, only 24 of them religious.
According to Haviva Solomon, who is responsible for the academies in the Defense Ministry, demand far outstrips supply: For every young person admitted, there are 10 who are refused. Two more academies will be opening this year — in Givat Haviva and at Beit Berl College.
Over time, however, there has been a drop in the ratio of academy graduates who become army officers. A study done by Dr. Naomi Ebenshpanger found that the percentage of graduates who became officers dropped from 26 percent in 2001 to 15 percent in 2008. According to the data published by the Defense Ministry on Sunday, the percentage has declined further this year to 11 percent. The percentage of religious graduates who go onto become officers is 17 percent.
According to Solomon, the drop stems from changes to the academies themselves, which are no longer only for the elite. Many newer academies are aimed at a broader range of the population, including immigrants, Ethiopians, Druze and the ultra-Orthodox.
“Just like there are many premilitary academies for the stronger youth, there are also many weaker ones, which also produce officers, but fewer,” said Solomon. “There are academies for teens that wouldn’t get into the army if they hadn’t gone to academies. Not everything is measured in terms of officers.”