Hundreds of thousands of conscripts in the regular army who served in combat units were raised on stories that extolled the wonderful food served in the kitchens of the air force, navy and intelligence corps. An investigative report published in MarkerWeek in Hebrew on Friday found that this is no accident. In many cases, the amount spent on every meal at these bases is significantly higher than what is spent on food served to the grunts. The report revealed that many soldiers get stuck with low-quality and even insufficient food.
Both the soldiers and the public have gotten used to accepting this situation as natural, but it shouldn’t be like this. The Israel Defense Forces are the people’s army, and the state instituted mandatory conscription. Therefore, there’s no justification for people who didn’t manage to get into particular units to be given food that’s lower quality or leaves them hungry.
The problems with the IDF’s food service are just one of the many symptoms of the fundamental distortion from which military service suffers these days. In recent years, the IDF has become a hybrid institution. It’s partially privatized, but it still relies on the mandatory conscription law.
The privatization of some of the IDF’s food service over the last 20 years led the army to pursue cost savings and solicit competitive bids that make it hard to provide decent food to the soldiers. The workers who are supposed to provide this service are poorly paid, and the service they provide is commensurate. The low wages paid to kitchen staff, which affects the quality and quantity of the food served to soldiers, is especially outrageous given that the biggest burden on the defense budget is pension payments for retired officers of the standing army.
The army’s struggle to curb the cost of feeding its soldiers is also disturbing given the enormous amounts of money it spends to give the air force and navy the latest weaponry. In contrast to this spendthrift behavior, the army can allow itself to skimp on food because conscript soldiers are a resource that doesn’t cost it anything. This is what happens when soldiers are conscripts – they become a resource that the system doesn’t have to worry about keeping happy, and therefore, it doesn’t have to invest in the food they receive.
But the IDF can’t privatize some of its operations when its business model is still based on the assumption that it can legally draft personnel without paying for it. This issue also explains why some conscripts feel like the “suckers” of Israeli society.
In the coming weeks, the army is slated to announce plans to reform its food services. In so doing, it must remember that as long as the mandatory conscription law remains in force, the army has an obligation to set minimal standards in its food supply contracts to keep this privatization from hurting its soldiers – not just for the pilots, but also for the ordinary grunts.
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The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.