The percentage of Israeli-Arab youths who support volunteering for national service has fallen over the past two years, from 77 percent to 54%, a new poll to be released on Thursday states.

According to the poll, 43% of the Arab youths surveyed said they would volunteer for national service if the benefits were the same given to soldiers after finishing mandatory service. When asked if they would volunteer if the benefits included assistance with college tuition and housing, 53% said yes.

The University of Haifa survey was conducted by polling 401 Israeli-Arabs under the age of 23, 200 between the ages of 18 and 22 that did not perform in national service, 152 volunteers currently performing in national service, and 153 who have finished national service in recent years.

In spite of the drop in support, the report cites figures from the National Service Administration that illustrate a rise in the number of Arab youths volunteering for national service, from 240 in 2005 to 1256 in 2009.

National service is a system of civil service work, often implimented at schools and hospitals for Israeli youngsters who either opt out of army service or are found physically unfit to serve.

According to the University of Haifa survey, the rise in volunteering comes in spite of a “tough campaign” waged by the Arab High Monitoring Community and the Baladna Association for Arab youth, as well as Arab leaders’ condemnations of national service.

The report will be presented at a conference to be held at the University of Haifa on Thursday, and will be attended by Minister of Science and Technology Daniel Herschkowitz, officials from the National Service Administration and Dr. Iman Ouda, manager of the Arab High Monitoring Committee’s campaign against national service.

In a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar encouraged greater Israeli-Arab participation in national service, saying that it could bring “a breakthrough in the relationship between Arab youths and the State of Israel.”

In his letter, Sa’ar says that in spite of the opposition of political leaders in the Arab sector, there is “a growing demand among Arab youths to volunteer inside and outside their communities.”

Sa’ar highlights how in addition to budgetary shortfalls, there is a shortage of available positions that keeps many youngsters unable to perform service, which is partly due to a rise in the number of minority youngsters who are looking to serve. The education minister also called for an increase in budgetary allotments for national service, and cited the contributions of the 3,136 volunteers who perform national service in the ministry each year.

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