Researcher: Anti-dodging Campaign by IDF Is 'Ugly'

Senior Israel Defense Forces officers have in the past few weeks been promoting an aggressive campaign against draft dodging, which they say is becoming a real concern in terms of Israel's long-term security. But an internal IDF survey from last year reveals that motivation among candidates to serve in the army has, in fact, increased.

"The campaign against youths who do not join the army is false and ugly," says Dr. Stuart Cohen of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. "This campaign is not based on reality. Upon reviewing the IDF's figures on the number of recruits, I find no cause for concern. Quite the opposite. The figures are actually pretty impressive."

In preparing the survey last November, the IDF's behavioral science department interviewed 500 high-school girls and 500 boys, all candidates for mandatory military service, about their will to serve and their political beliefs. The pollsters found that the will to serve in the IDF has risen by 5 percent since 2001.

Cohen points out that besides the religious yeshiva students who receive exemption, the army rejects 4 percent of candidates for having a criminal record. Another group of about the same size is comprised of young men who live abroad and cannot serve. "Others are exempt for medical reasons, and there are another 5 percent of candidates who don't enlist for psychological reasons, who are called 'draft dodgers.' But they constitute a very small and marginal minority," said Cohen.

Col. Amir Rogovski, commander of the IDF's Draft Management and Recruitment Unit, said in July that a quarter of draft-age Israelis do not enlist in the Israel Defense Forces. But data released by his unit showed that the largest single group (11 percent) of candidates who did not enlist had claimed religious exemption based on the concept of Jewish study as a vocation - which the IDF accepts as legitimate grounds for exemption.

And yet, since Rogovski's unit released its data, and despite the findings of the IDF's internal survey, condemning draft dodgers has become something of a national pastime. Less than two weeks ago, at an awards ceremony, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said that those who get out of military service should "hang their heads in shame."

It is true that August 2007 saw the smallest draft of the past few years, at least in part reflecting the rise of over 1 percent in the number of religious Jews who opt out of military service.

The number of volunteers for combat units in the August 2007 draft dropped by 1.5 percent from over August 2006, whose recruits were drafted as Israel was engaged in heavy fighting in the Second Lebanon War.

Rogovski himself, along with many other experts, has said that last summer's war had probably served to motivate youth for military service. This is also seen in the unusually high number of soldiers who volunteered for combat units in November 2006, directly after the war. And so the drop in the number of recruits in August can be seen as nothing more than the inevitable ebb of post-war patriotism.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and MK Eitan Cabel, who heads a special committee for combating draft dodging, are nonetheless pressing ahead with a project aimed at making life hard for those who choose not to enter the army. The committee is reportedly reviewing such proposals as revoking dodgers' right to vote, receive a driving license or study medicine.