(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The rate of Ethiopian Israelis joining the Israel Defense Forces is higher than that of the general population, the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs was told Monday.
The committee was holding an emergency hearing to discuss the publication of recent data showing that a disproportionately high number of Ethiopian soldiers also wind up in army prison.
According to IDF statistics presented to the committee, which is chaired by MK Prof. Michael Nudelman (Kadima), 90 percent of Ethiopian males join the army, with 30% becoming part of fighter units. This at a time when the participation of the general population in the army has been plummeting. According to figures released in August, 25% of 18 year-old males avoided the draft.
However, the committee was also told that 20% of the Ethiopian soldiers end up deserting the army at some point in order to assist their families, many of whom are faced with severe economic difficulties.
"This committee calls on the IDF Spokesman to publish immediately the full statistics showing the high motivation of Ethiopian immigrants in joining the army," said MK Colette Avital (Labor), who had urged the committee to discuss this issue.
The committee concluded that it was imperative to show the positive statistics as well as the negative in order to dispel the many stigmas surrounding the Ethiopian immigrant population and increase their chances for integration into mainstream Israeli society.
Lt.-Col. Moshik Aviv, head of the IDF's Aliya and Integration Unit, presented the data and also pointed out that one out of six Ethiopian soldiers winds up in army prison, compared to only one out of 23 non-Ethiopian soldiers.
However, he said that the army has grown sensitive to the needs of the immigrant soldiers and he outlined to the committee some of the steps the army has taken in recent years to address the problem of desertion due to social issues.
Aviv highlighted two programs that the army initiated to cope with this issue.
The Gahlat (spark) program caters to soldiers rejoining the army following jail time and includes a specially tailored career path enabling them to continue tending to their families' needs.
The Amir Program - also supported by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Feuerstein Institute - works with Ethiopian soldiers to give them the tools they need to succeed in the military.
Aviv also said that the Education Ministry, together with the IDF, had begun to develop pre-army programs so that Ethiopian soldiers would fare better during their military service.
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