Investigation finds IDF did not deliberately falsify Haredi draft numbers

Recommendations include clarifying legal definition of Haredi and gradually reducing age of exemption for ultra-Orthodox.

Ultra-orthodox in the IDF: A Nahal Haredi swearing-in ceremony (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ultra-orthodox in the IDF: A Nahal Haredi swearing-in ceremony
The Israeli military did not deliberately falsify the numbers of Haredi enlistment figures, rather there was a “serious systematic command failure” in the way numbers of ultra-Orthodox recruits were handled, the IDF investigation into the controversy has found.
“The investigative committee identified a severe systemic, professional and command failure,” the investigative team led by Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Roni Numa wrote in its report released on Thursday.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who received the report along with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett earlier this week, called the controversy “severe.”
Stating that it was the military which recognized the mistake and established the committee, Bennett said that "no system is without errors. The IDF is not immune to mistakes but the IDF knows how to fix its mistakes. We are not afraid to admit mistakes, and we will correct them."
The dispute surrounding the years-long inflation of haredi draft numbers was first exposed by Kan’s Carmela Menashe in December. According to the report, the IDF had published false figures, sometimes doubling or tripling the actual figures, making it seem as though the military was reaching the quotas set by law.
The report into how and why the numbers of Haredi soldiers were inflated was compiled by Numa, who was appointed to head the investigative committee, as well as Brig.-Gen. Rami Ben Emphraim, Rabbanit Malka Piotrkowski and Yehuda Meshi Zahav.
The team told reporters on Thursday that they thoroughly examined the process of how the figures were collected, who was counted as ultra-Orthodox, how the figures were counted and whether or not there was any oversight of the process.
Over the two and a half months of the investigation, numerous meetings were held with dozens of IDF and defense officials as well as officials from the government, media, civil society, rabbis and other public figures.
While “there was a feeling of falsifying the numbers by junior officers, it was not intentionally done by the military. There was no lying and no fabrication of numbers,” Numa stressed to reporters, adding that one of the major problems lies with the interpretation of the law of who is recognized as haredi.
The team stated that the military included both people who studied for two or more years in a school identified as haredi and those who were deemed to live a “haredi lifestyle” as being ultra-Orthodox for the purposes of their calculations.
But, while the original IDF enlistment figures over the years showed a steady if slow increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox men enlisting every year, the investigation into the matter found that there was no increase in haredi soldiers and that none of the target figures were met.
According to the investigation, there were no more than 2,000 Haredi men serving in the IDF between 2011-2018.
In 2011, for example, the IDF reported that 1,200 haredi men were drafted when in fact only 600 enlisted. Six years later, in 2017, the military stated that 3,070 haredi men were drafted when in fact only 1,374 enlisted. While the other 1,696 did not meet the law’s definition of ultra-Orthodox, they were included anyways.
The next year saw 1,988 Haredi men drafted into the IDF.
“The data was compiled by professional bodies in the Manpower Directorate by an expanded interpretation which consciously, deliberately and systemically exceeded the law,” read the report, adding that there were also miscalculations in the numbers which “were a result of serious professional negligence.”
The report did not find that the numbers were biased due to political pressure or financial motivations and said that had senior officers had more carefully monitored the process there wouldn’t have been an issue about the accuracy.
Reforms passed in the Knesset in 2014 which aimed to gradually increase ultra-Orthodox recruitment have been met with stiff opposition from many in that religious community, which has historically been exempt from military service, and there have been regular demonstrations against the draft.
According to the report, the definition of who is considered haredi has changed over the years, and despite the 2014 reforms, people who did not meet all the criteria under law were still counted as ultra-Orthodox within the military framework.
The team also found negligent record-keeping and work methods by the Manpower Directorate, resulting in hundreds of people-including women and Muslims-being added to the figures despite obviously not meeting the legal criteria.
“It is not acceptable to have hundreds of mistakes and such large gaps in the numbers,” Numa said.
The military said that the discrepancies regarding haredi draft figures were first identified by military officials in April 2019, who were working on draft figures for 2018 and were concerned that there was a mistake in the number of recruits in comparison to the previous year.
These discrepancies were reported to Brig.-Gen. Eran Shani, who heads the IDF Personnel Directorate's Human Resource Planning and Management Division, and he ordered a re-examination of the data. Several months later, and following a number of meetings to obtain the correct data, the discrepancies were reported to the Head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Moti Almoz.
 The military said the issue was reported to Kochavi on October 25, 2019. The chief of staff ordered that a written report be given to the political echelon – “however, even before the report was given to the political echelon, several articles were published in the media, including allegations of falsification of data.”
According to IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman, the military decided to go public with the controversy before it understood how the miscalculations occurred because it understood the severity of the matter.
Following the investigation, the committee issued a series of recommendations for both the military and government in order to move forward with the recruitment of ultra-Orthdox.
Among the recommendations was to update the list of Haredi institutions recognized by Ministry of Defense (which hasn’t been done since 2014), better communication and cooperation between the Education Ministry and Ministry of Defense regarding how Ultra-Orthodox conscripts are counted, improving the oversight mechanisms and the creation of a digital database of all Haredi students, and inter ministry committee to oversee the entire process.
The team also recommended that the military stop reporting the numbers of ultra-Orthodox recruits to the public until the process is updated and the military believes they are accurate.
All of the recommendations were accepted by Kochavi, who ordered that they be immediately implemented.
In addition, the team presented systemic policy recommendations, including clarifying the legal definition of "ultra-Orthodox" and the need to formulate a national strategy policy regarding the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox, including gradually lowering the age of exemption from 24 years.
Following the investigation, the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate Maj.-Gen. Moti Almoz took full responsibility for the incident and will receive a formal reprimand, a rare move.
Brig.-Gen. Eran Shani, the former head of the Manpower Directorate's Human Resource Planning and Management Division will also be officially reprimanded. Several other officers, including the head of the Planning and Manpower Management Department, a colonel who can not be named will receive an official censure and a delay of one year for any future promotion.
A legal adviser to the Manpower Directorate was not reprimanded but was called in for a disciplinary meeting for her failure to adequately explain the legal criteria for who is considered ultra-Orthodox to officers responsible for tallying the figures.
One officer who no longer serves in the IDF nor performs reserve service, the former head of the Manpower Directorate’s Haredi department, will not be reprimanded, despite the military believing that his actions warranted it.
“The IDF works fully transparently in publishing the findings of the investigation to all relevant parties and to the public,” the military said in a statement, adding that the incident will be studied and that the lessons learned from it “will be implemented at all levels.”
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.