Following outrage, IDF changes policy for immigrant doctors

Two-year pilot program will raise draft age to 34 instead of 35, service time to 24 months instead of 18

Myriam Leser, Deputy CEO of Qualita (photo credit: QUALITA)
Myriam Leser, Deputy CEO of Qualita
(photo credit: QUALITA)
Following criticism of an IDF directive to change the draft policy for new immigrant doctors, the army has decided on a pilot program that will raise the upper draft age by one year instead of two.
The pilot program was agreed upon last week at a meeting held by the IDF, the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee and various immigrant groups, such as Nefesh B’Nefesh, Qualita and Gvahim.
Myriam Leser, deputy CEO of Qualita, an umbrella organization that helps French immigrants to move to Israel and integrate into the country, told The Jerusalem Post that the pilot program would begin in July.
As part of the program the draft age limit will increase to 34 years for men and the duration of their service will also increase, to 24 months.
Under the current regulations male doctors and dentists who immigrate to Israel under the age of 33 and who inform the Health Ministry that they are physicians are required to serve for 18 months.
Female immigrant doctors and dentists, who are currently exempt from serving in the military, will be drafted if they are younger than 29.
“This is done in order to improve the effectiveness of their military training and service in the IDF,” Leser said, adding that the new directives will not affect those who immigrated to Israel before July 2018 or have begun their preparations to move.
The IDF will consider the qualifications of the immigrant doctors to allow them to use their specialty they trained in. Physicians who immigrate to Israel enlist in the IDF and almost always serve as battalion doctors, providing general medical treatment to soldiers on army bases and not in clinics.
These doctors usually only go home to their families every two weeks and, while they receive salaries of career soldiers, their pay is still significantly lower than that of physicians in the civilian sector.
“We cannot ask someone do be so far from his family and community when he just moves here and is getting acclimatized,” Leser told the Post, adding that as part of the pilot program the IDF will make an effort to assign these immigrant doctors close to home if requested.
Like the healthcare system in general, the IDF is short of physicians. A May report by military ombudsman Maj.- Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick found that one doctor treats approximately 1,200 soldiers and one mental health officer is responsible for 2,300 soldiers.
The change to the draft policy was an effort by the IDF to fix the problem.
But critics of the policy, including MK Avraham Neguise, the chairman of the Immigration and Absorption Committee, said the change of procedures was formulated by the IDF without informing any relevant parties, including the Health Ministry and the Aliya and Integration Ministry.
Ronen Fuxman, the government advocacy adviser at Nefesh B’Nefesh, who according to Leser stumbled upon the new policy “by chance,” warned that doctors will be deterred from moving to Israel.