Editorial |

The Military Is Not a Personnel Agency for Cheap Labor

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Soldiers hold hands at a military cemetery in Haifa on Memorial Day in April.
Soldiers hold hands at a military cemetery in Haifa on Memorial Day in April.Credit: Rami Shllush

Defense Minister Benny Gantz demanded Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev to prohibit female soldiers serving in prisons from being in proximity to Palestinian security prisoners, pending an investigation of claims of sexual assault made by female guards at Gilboa Prison. Bar-Lev told Gantz that barring soldiers, male and female alike, from serving in security prisons would require new legislation. But in fact, the whole incident necessitates a discussion of the legitimacy of using soldiers for civilian tasks.

Two changes to existing laws defined what is called “recognized service,” and empowered the government in 1995 to assign soldiers to serve in positions within civilian institutions, "the purpose of which is to realize a national-security goal.” The army assigns thousands of soldiers to non-military institutions, including the Israel Prison Service, on the basis of these and successive amendments.

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which has the authority to approve these allocations, as well as committees appointed by the cabinet, have on several occasions raised questions about the logic of this arrangement from economic, professional and even philosophical perspectives as to the roles of the army.

The criticism is that the Defense Service Law, which forms the legal basis for mandatory service, was not intended to turn the army into a personnel agency that allocates cheap workers, by virtue of their forced conscription, for purposes that are not purely military (Yigal Levy, Haaretz Hebrew, August 4). The principle underlying the military draft is the state’s authority to determine who will risk their lives and who will perform tasks that directly support those who risk their lives, and not to leave this decision to the free choice of the individual nor to the mercy of labor market forces.

The Knesset and the government grossly violated this principle when they allowed the employment of soldiers as cheap labor in policing and incarceration tasks, but also in other civilian tasks, as a substitute for allocating funding for positions. They compounded this injustice when, about a year ago, they rejected a proposal to reduce the duration of mandatory service on one hand, despite surplus personnel in the IDF, and on the other hand approved the continued allocation of soldiers to civilian organizations.

It is therefore not enough for the legislature to impose restrictions on the assignment of soldiers to these tasks or to establish rules to monitor their service in the aim of preventing a recurrence of the alleged incidents involving female soldiers serving in the prison service. It is time to conduct a comprehensive “home inspection” and to restore the draft to its original purpose.

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