Israel’s ‘Combat-service Tax’ Is a Travesty

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IDF soldiers near the Gaza border, July 31 2014.

It comes up every year: the issue of the absurd salaries for soldiers doing compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces. If a soldier is defined as a combat soldier he receives about 847 shekels ($231) a month, if he’s in a combat-support unit he receives about 650 shekels, and if he serves on the home front he receives about 400 shekels.

It’s clear that even if the IDF and Defense Ministry insist on describing the soldiers’ salaries as pocket money – as the government claimed a year ago at the High Court of Justice – this money will barely cover a few essentials for the average male or female soldier for no more than two weeks.

According to the government, those doing compulsory service receive pocket money, not a salary, because the IDF sees to all their needs. There isn’t enough room here to itemize the investment by the soldiers and their parents; some basic examples are transportation and additional food and clothing.

There are many cases – some typical, some bizarre – in which parents open their pockets. And I’m saying pockets, even though, again, there isn't enough room here to discuss all the ways parents volunteer to augment a service that benefits society. They sometimes contribute to their child’s entire unit in order to ensure that the people who are ensuring Israel’s security can succeed.

After all, for many of those serving, success in their military service is a preferred platform for success later in life, a path strewn with obstacles in Israel.

So here comes the unavoidable question: Why is the government so stingy when it comes to its young sons and daughters bearing the defense burden when we see that the government hands out cash and perks to various and sundry groups? These groups’ contribution to Israel’s security are very minor; some make no contribution to the country at all.

The complex answer begins with an understanding of the main motives of young national-minded Israelis who serve in the IDF. I won’t get into why most young Israelis seek to serve the country, wear the uniform and be a soldier, including being a combat soldier. Suffice it to say that they have a mad desire to do so, and that’s a good thing. Defense officials are well aware of this madness, so they shamelessly impose the combat-service tax on the parents.

The combat-service tax is a covert tax imposed mainly on the middle class, to which most soldiers belong, especially in combat units. The parents will never launch a protest against the defense and political leaders for this injustice, mainly out of embarrassment and the thought that it may “harm the kids.”

And all this so our military and political leaders can continue to waste huge amounts of public money. All this is done ostentatiously, with a lack of sensitivity and an obtuseness that reflects a loss of morality and shame.

The writer is a colonel in the reserves.

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