Those few good men

Statistics show that in our war-weary country, only 100,000 soldiers do reserve duty for more than 10 days a year.

May 3, 2010 22:59
3 minute read.
Reserve soldiers (illustrative photo, soldiers pic

reserve soldiers 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

For the past decade or so, Reserve Duty Day, which coincides with Lag Ba’omer, has been marked as a salute to those relatively few good men who every year leave their jobs, their families and their civilian lives, for days and sometimes weeks, to help protect our nation. Lag Ba’omer may have been chosen because of its connection to the bravery of the Jewish soldiers who staged the Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman conquerors of Israel in the second century.

On Sunday, as part of Reserve Duty Day celebrations, Brig.-Gen. Shuki Ben-Anat, the IDF’s chief reserve forces officer, presented some figures to the cabinet. These showed that in our war-weary country, only 100,000 soldiers do reserve duty for more than 10 days a year.

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These are men under 40 (or under 45 if they are officers) who did not delay the draft indefinitely to devote themselves to the learning of Torah; who did not excuse themselves from service for real or fabricated mental or physical illnesses; who did not leave Israel to live abroad; who did not commit a crime. The vast majority serve in combat units or in units that provide support to combat forces. They represent just a fraction of the total male population under the age of 45, a truly elite group of citizens worthy of praise.

And yet, Ben-Anat told the ministers, instead of taking public pride in their contribution to the defense of the state, these men are sometimes forced to hide the fact of their service. When applying for jobs, many senior reserve officers, men who end up serving the longest stints in reserve duty, omit their military obligations from their CVs. They are concerned, for good reason, that they will not be hired by employers unwilling to suffer long absences from work.

Ben-Anat told of how one private business, chosen by the Defense Ministry for a special prize, was disqualified at the last minute after it emerged that the company had fired a worker for performing too much reserve duty.

For years, doomsayers have warned of the imminent breakdown of the IDF as a “people’s army.” In the new post-Zionist reality, they argue, individuals are more interested in their own personal advancement than in serving their country. It is no longer worthwhile, from the perspective of narrow self-interests, to risk one’s life in a combat unit or to serve in the reserves.

TRUE, NON-SERVICE rates are on the rise. In 1980, 12.1% of the total draft did not serve. In 1990 that number rose to 16.6%, and hit 23.9% in 2002. In 2008, 72% of young men and 54% of young women enlisted in the IDF. And of those who ended up being drafted, about 18% received an early discharge.

However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that the rise in non-service is due primarily to the astounding growth in the haredi and Arab populations. If in 1980 haredim made up just a third of those who did not serve, today they make up nearly half of the 25% who do not serve.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, the supposed bastion of post-Zionism, the draft rate for boys and girls out of high school is about 70% – about the same, if not higher, than the national average. And motivation to serve in combat units or become an officer has actually been on the rise.

Overall, the core group of draftees (not including the haredim) has not shrunk significantly over the past three decades. This is remarkable considering a variety of factors, in addition to all the talk about post-Zionism.

Among them: the fact that more army duty is being done in Judea and Samaria, where many Israelis have ideological difficulties; the negative impact from reports of the IDF command’s incompetence during the Second Lebanon War and the fallout from the 2005 disengagement, which forced religious and right-wing soldiers to help dismantle Jewish settlements they supported.

That encouraging evidence of ongoing motivation, of the IDF’s ongoing status at the heart of Israel, however, is dented by the reports of IDF reservists having to hide the fact of their service. Private businesses and other segments of society should support, not punish, these few good men. Providing wide social support is a key element of our people’s army.

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