IDF admits haredi conscription much lower than stated

IDF claims the discrepancy stems from the way it defines ultra-Orthodox recruits

An ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jewish man walks past Israeli soldiers of the Netzah Yehuda Haredi infantry battalion during their swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
An ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jewish man walks past Israeli soldiers of the Netzah Yehuda Haredi infantry battalion during their swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
A change in the way the IDF counts haredi recruits to the army has revealed that the number of soldiers from the sector in recent years is significantly lower than was originally thought.
Initial reports suggested that the IDF was falsifying the numbers, although it appears that the discrepancies in conscription figures originally reported and new counting methods by the army stem from the use of different definitions as to who is haredi (ultra-Orthodox).
According to a report on KAN Bet radio on Wednesday, the IDF stated in 2017, 3,070 ultra-Orthodox recruits joined the IDF, while according to an internal IDF count just 1,300 men from the sector were conscripted.
Sources familiar with the issue told The Jerusalem Post, however, that according to the 2014 definition of a male ultra-Orthodox IDF recruit, there were, in fact, some 2,700 haredi recruits to the army for 2017, still lower than the original 3,070 reported but not vastly so.
The reason for the discrepancies appears to be a recent change by the IDF in the way it defines an ultra-Orthodox recruit.
 “There isn’t a will to inflate the numbers. It stemmed from our interpretation of who is ultra-Orthodox. It is possible that people made mistakes, but there was no malice and definitely no forgery of numbers,” the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Moti Almoz, told KAN.
According to the definition laid out in the 2014 ultra-Orthodox conscription law passed at the behest of Yesh Atid in the 33rd government, an ultra-Orthodox man is someone who spent at least two years between the ages of 14 and 18 in an ultra-Orthodox educational framework.
This definition, which was strongly promoted by the ultra-Orthodox parties despite their not being in the government, was extremely broad and allowed the IDF to include in its numbers young men who were no longer ultra-Orthodox or who had dropped out of ultra-Orthodox educational frameworks and were no longer part of the community’s mainstream.
In addition, the IDF apparently included other segments of the population that were also borderline ultra-Orthodox, including some from the religious-Zionist sector, in their ultra-Orthodox conscription numbers.
The IDF said it also included soldiers who “led an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle when they were drafted but did not come under the official definition of having studied in an ultra-Orthodox school for two years between the ages of 14 and 18.”
In 2018, the Haredi Directorate in the IDF headed by Col. Telem Hazan was established, and it then began a review of the ultra-Orthodox conscription statistics.
It chose to use a more stringent definition of who is an ultra-Orthodox recruit, leading to much lower figures than previously published, despite the fact that according to the broad definition under the 2014 law the original figures were nevertheless legally accurate.
In response to the scandal, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has scheduled a hearing on the matter for next week.
“I really hope that when we held the discussions on ultra-Orthodox conscription, the data we had in front of us were accurate,” Labor-Gesher Party leader Amir Peretz told KAN. “If we made decisions in the past based on false data or data that nobody knew how to quantify, this is severe. We cannot allow for a culture of lies to be part of the outlook of the Defense Ministry and the IDF.”
The IDF denied that any figures had been deliberately falsified. It said the difference in the figures stemmed from “the system of calculating” the ultra-Orthodox conscription figures and added that some recruits who did not meet the official definition of ultra-Orthodox were nevertheless counted since they led an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle at the time of conscription.
The IDF said that the issue had been investigated internally and new statistics had been presented to the IDF chief of staff several weeks ago, who gave orders to examine the method by which the numbers are calculated.
He appointed Maj.-Gen (res.) Roni Noma to examine how ultra-Orthodox soldiers were counted between 2011 and 2018.
“The IDF emphasizes that the discrepancy [in ultra-Orthodox conscription figures] was revealed in the framework of the internal oversight activities. The IDF will work with transparency and will provide an update on its findings at the end of the examination of Noma,” the army stated.
Anna Ahronheim and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.