Gov't Approves Establishment of National Service Administration

Budget has not yet been approved; administration would initially recruit 500 Arab and ultra-Orthodox volunteers who don't serve in IDF.

The government unanimously decided on Sunday to fully adopt the Ivri Committee report and establish a national service administration for young people who have been exempt from military service.

The decision will mainly affect Arab youth and ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, who are exempt from military service by law.

Beyond a preliminary budget of NIS five million, an overall budget framework is yet to be approved.

The administration would be run by the Prime Minister's office, in order to dispel fears among ultra-Orthodox circles that it would work under either the IDF or the Defense Ministry.

In the first stage, the administration would recruit 500 volunteers annually. For a period of at least a year, they would engage in various types of community work, including care for the elderly, work at hospitals, road accident prevention and promotion of environmental awareness.

The national service would be binding and volunteers would have to meet different requirements. The work would be unpaid, but volunteers would be entitled to remuneration of a sum equivalent to that of non-combat soldiers. After a year's service, the volunteer will be eligible for a bonus and a grant of NIS 7,000-8,000 for study or business purposes.

Dr. Reuven Gal, who would direct the administration, addressed concerns by Israeli Arab groups skeptical of the future administration.

"The concern expressed by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee of Israel is completely understandable, given years of discrimination and mistrust. But at the end of the day," he added, "volunteering is a great privilege, and the Arab public has a lot to gain from it."

Gal said that he and his colleagues have met recently with ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who have made "positive statements" about their willingness to allow yeshiva students to volunteer. In a press conference held Sunday morning, Gal said that "civil service will constitute an alternative to military service, and whoever avoids both, will be outcast. We are creating new norms in our society."

The government decision said that the objective of the administration is "to increase the identification of a young citizen with his community, society and country." It also said that "national service will reduce the current inequality between those who serve and those who do not."