The budget for benefits for IDF reservists will soon jump to NIS 200 million from NIS 15m. annually, said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday, saying the change “will correct a historic injustice.”
IDF Human Resources Commander Maj.-Gen. Yaniv Asur said the change would be approved by the government in stages around June 4 and 11.
The proposed change comes as the IDF reserves face both a long-standing and draining crisis of maintaining its ranks due to low recognition and low pay as well as a near-term crisis related to the judicial overhaul debate.
Gallant said the increase would multiply IDF benefits by a magnitude of 15 and would reach NIS 1 billion over five years.
Just as significantly, Gallant said the new benefits would trickle down to 133,000 active reservists, instead of the focus until now on around 1,500 senior reservist commanders.
Unclear where the money for the new reservist benefits will come from
“Without the reserves, the State of Israel will have a problem defending itself, whether during wartime or even in between wars. Those who serve in the reserves are an elite group, but unfortunately they remain only in single digits among the broader population,” said Gallant.
Still, many unanswered questions remain. Neither Gallant nor Asur answered how this new increase would be paid for.
This could be especially problematic in an atmosphere when reports indicate that every government ministry, including the Defense Ministry/IDF, will need to take a 3% cut to pay for additional new benefits for the government’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties as well as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s expanded National Guard force.
Further, while the increase in funds for reservists sounds impressive, it still pales in comparison to the reported increase in funds for the haredi sector.
There were also questions about whether local municipalities would accept the individual reservist-applicants’ requests for the real estate tax discount that they normally collect, or whether there would be a disconnect between local and national authorities.
This could be another serious issue, especially if national authorities do not reimburse local authorities for lost real estate taxes.
The same issue could arise with discounts for electrical company charges for IDF reservists.
If the new discounts do go through, the real estate discount will jump for each reservist from 5% to 15%, worth NIS 8,322 per year.
The electric company discount for reservists will be 10%, worth NIS 4,518 per year.
There will also be a NIS 1,500 grant to cover summer camps for reservists who serve at least five days during the summer months.
Survey shows reservists deeply discontented with IDF payment
In January, the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security conference unveiled survey results of over 1,100 reservists showing deep discontent with how much the IDF pays them.
Also, the survey indicated that 66% of reservists feel they are viewed by society as “friers [suckers]” for continuing to serve, such that employers, spouses and university professors have lost respect for reservists and do not support them when they miss work, family events or classes.
Of the reservists, 84% of those in the JISS’s survey found their pay partially or extremely insufficient.
Survey numbers from the IDF from earlier in 2022 also indicated that 65% of reservists were unhappy with their equipment, 40% did not show up when called and around 82% were unhappy with their pay.
Asur said there was a recent increase in reservists showing up when summoned but this could also be a temporary effect of Operation Shield and Arrow.
On the one hand, in recent years there were said to be well over 400,000 reservists who could be called up in the event of a war – a number multiple times larger than the standing army.
On the other hand, the INSS think tank and other surveys have indicated that only 1.5% of residents serve in the reserves, and only about 6% of soldiers who complete their mandatory service continue to be on active reserve duty.
This suggests the number of reservists who regularly show up for training even in normal times is much smaller than the over-400,000 number, and is why many have said the reserves are in an extended trend of deterioration.
Reservist pay has generally not been updated since 2010 despite the increased cost of living over the last 13 years.
There is also a separate debate about striking the right balance between having sufficient training for reservists in critical fighting units versus investing less in training for reservists in less critical units.