March 12, 2009:
Israel wants to reduce the amount of time that young conscripts serve. But this has proved impossible because of the growing problem with those who are avoiding service (draft dodgers, in U.S. parlance). The Israeli armed forces has about 160,000 people on active duty, about 60 percent of those are draftees (men serving for 36 months, women for 21 months). You get drafted at 18, unless you have a deferment. Currently 26 percent of men and 44 percent of women get some kind of deferment. The military expects this deferment rate to keep increasing.
For a long time, nearly ten percent of potential draftees were deferred because they were ultra-orthodox Jews in religious schools. Now that's up to eleven percent, as more young Orthodox Jews use the religious study deferment. Moreover, about 25 percent of potential male recruits are exempt (unless they volunteer) because they are Moslem or Christian. It's easy for women to get exemptions, and over a third do. As a result, Israel is having a difficult time keeping its armed forces up to strength.
Another looming problem is a new law that only allows reservists to be called up once every three years. This law came about because so many reservists were being called up more frequently, which upset a significant number of voters. On top of that, active duty troops now require more months of specialized training, which proved quite useful in the recent fighting in Gaza. But those months of additional training means fewer troops are available for counter-terror and other duties.
The problem with the draft dodgers is that they know that Israel has never been defeated in war, and has been the top military power in the region for decades. Many young men believe they won't be missed if they manage to fake their way into an exemption. The military is cracking down on the exemptions, sending out investigators to make sure those claiming a deferment are entitled to it. This has resulted in thousands of young men, and especially women, changing their declaration (usually about religious matters) and choosing to serve.
The military is also making a big deal out of draft dodging, in the media, hoping to shame more men into stepping up. It is also allowing more of the minorities, especially those who only serve if they volunteer, to get into any job they qualify for. In the past, Arabs were restricted from many fields, because of potential loyalty conflicts in wartime. But now the military believes they have screening that can detect who is loyal and who is not.
Finally, the military is making more of an effort to integrate young recent immigrants into the military. Because these guys often had not yet mastered the language and customs, they usually end up in menial jobs. Highly educated conscripts don't respond well to that, and it's a waste of valuable skills. So the military is going to give these guys more opportunities, and see how they respond.