Israeli Army: An “Army of the People?” – Part 1

Monday, 27 December 2010 14:33 Shir Hever for the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

E-mail Print PDF

The Israeli military rarely likes to admit that conscription rates are dropping.


Such admission, hinting that military service has become the exception rather than the rule, would legitimize the desire of many young Israelis to avoid military service. The Israeli army website boasts that “Israel also has one of the highest recruitment rates in the world – some 80% of those who receive summons serve” (IDF, 2010). This figure is false (see below). Furthermore, note that the quote only talks about those “who receive summons,” neglecting to mention those whom the army does not summon – because it has given up efforts to recruit them or because it does not trust that they will be loyal soldiers.



The army continues to release partial and misleading information to paint a picture of high conscription rates in order to make those who do not serve in the army feel like outsiders. Chief of Staff Ashkenazi said in 2009 that the drafts in 2007-2008 were very good (despite evidence to the contrary, see Weiler-Polak, 2009). In the same interview, however, he said that those who do not enlist must be required to perform national service. This suggested policy is clearly designed to deter dodge evaders, an admission that their numbers are increasing (Kosharek, 2009).


The military tries to steer the discussion of draft dodging to one group only – the ultra orthodox Jews in Israel (Lis, 2009). This narrow view fuels tension between the ultra-orthodox and secular Jews, but does not clarify the main reasons for Israel’s rapid drop in conscription rates (Melamed, 2007). Meanwhile, the military boasts of “successes” in conscription, such as in a 2008 press release about an increase in the number of Arabs who joined the Israeli army, which turned out to be only a few dozen extra recruits (Stern, 2008); a press release about a peak number of Bedouin soldiers who serve in the Golani division (with no mention of how many serve in other divisions – Pfeffer, 2010a); or a report about higher motivation for combat units in the 2009 draft. The high motivation for combat is not surprising, since so many young Israelis who had a low inclination to serve in the army simply avoided the draft. Those who remain were on average more combat-oriented (Pfeffer, 2009b).


Little pieces of data published in Israel, brief admissions by Israeli military brass, reveal a rapid decline in conscription rates to the Israeli army. Conscription rates in the neighborhood of 80% (the kinds of which the army boasts of today) were indeed commonplace in the 1980s, although a steady decline in conscription numbers could already be discerned then (The Economist, 2008). By the year 2000, willingness to serve in the army dropped by about 20% (Spiegel, 2001).


In recent years, however, the army was able to conscript a much smaller proportion of the Israeli population. The military admitted that its August 2007 draft (the August draft is usually the largest draft of the year) was one of the smallest in many years (Shenfeld, 2007), and in 2009, the army’s person-power department revealed that only 74.6% of Jewish men and 56% of Jewish women enlisted (Pfeffer, 2009a). These figures might create the false impression that most Israeli citizens enlist to the army, but note the key word “Jewish” in the data. Because about a quarter of Israeli citizens are Palestinians and only a small proportion of them are called to serve in the Israeli army (and an even smaller proportion of those actually serve), actually only 48% of Israeli citizens who turn 18 enlist to the army (Pfeffer, 2010b).


A closer look at the data on the true drop in Israel’s conscription rates reveals an interesting fact – most of the data originates from the Israeli military itself. This is a form of a contradictory propaganda campaign which is typical in the Israeli political system. On the one hand, officers and politicians discuss the “disaster” of the plummeting draft numbers as a scare tactic, in order to garner public support for a crackdown on draft dodgers (which will be discussed in the next part of this article), and to push forward with militaristic policies even at the expense of democratic procedures. On the other hand, the same officers and politicians are themselves afraid of the ramifications of the lower conscription rates and how it can change Israeli society. They are afraid that as draft dodgers become more numerous, they will also become increasingly accepted in Israeli society and their act will be seen as a form of heroic youth rebellion. So they prefer to obfuscate the facts, deny that there is a problem at all and hope the situation will resolve itself.


The next part of this article will discuss the reasons for the drop in conscription rates and the methods by which draft dodgers avoid service, as well as attempts by the Israeli government to crush the phenomenon.



  • IDF (Israel’s Defense Force), 2010, “IDF Background Information,” IDF website,, accessed December 2010.
  • The Economist, 2008, “The Next Generation,” The Economist, Vol. 387, No. 8574, April 5th, 2008.
  • Kosharek, Noa, 2009, “Chief of Staff Ashkenazi: National Service Must be Implemented on Those who Do not Enlist, and Women Enlistment Must be Improved,” Ha’aretz, September 11th, 2009.
  • Lis, Jonathan, 2009, “According to ACA Predictions, in 2019 1 in 4 Israelis of Age 18 Will not Enlist to the IDF,” Ha’aretz, November 17th, 2009.
  • Melamed, Eliezer, 2007, “Where Did the Conscripts Disappear to?,” Besheva, Vol. 252, July 29th, 2007.
  • Pfeffer, Anshil, 2009a, “Head of the IDF’s Manpower Department, Major General Zvi Zamir: The Number of Non-Enlisted Has Grown, Obligatory Service Will Not be Shortened,” Ha’aretz, March 1st, 2009.
  • Pfeffer, Anshil, 2009b, “Increase in the Desire to Serve in Combat Units Among 2009 Enlisters,” Ha’aretz, July 29th, 2009.
  • Pfeffer, Anshil, 2010a, “Peak in Recruiting Soldiers of the Bedouin Group to the Golani Division,” Ha’aretz, January 18th, 2010.
  • Pfeffer, Anshil, 2010b, “IDF: Half of Jewish Men Under 40 Don’t Serve in the Army, Within a Decade They will be 60%” Ha’aretz, November 19th, 2010.
  • Shenfeld, Yoni, 2007, “25% of 18 Year-Olds Don’t Conscript to the IDF,” MSN, July 17th, 2007.
  • Spiegel, Udi, 2001, Youth Motivation to Serve in the IDF, Research and Information Center at the Knesset,” Jerusalem, June 26th, 2001.
  • Stern, Yoav, 2008, “First Time in Four Years: Increase in Arab Conscription to the IDF,” Ha’aretz, October 28th, 2008.
  • Weiler-Polak, 2009, “Israel Annual Statistical Reader: ‘Children in Israel – 2009’: Every Third Child Lives Under the Poverty Line,” Ha’aretz, December 23rd, 2009.



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: