'Draft-dodging must be made unacceptable'

Lobby group aims to change legislation to make military service mandatory.

Teenagers are developing a skewed perspective that it is acceptable to dodge the draft "just because it doesn't suit them," claims Taliah Herman, manager of the Israeli Forum for the Promotion of Equal Share in the Burden. The forum, established one year ago, is a coalition that lobbies the Knesset to change legislation so all citizens will perform either military or civil service, with an emphasis on military service. Recent reports showed that the number of teenagers drafted into the army reached an all-time low of 52 percent this year. According to the reports, nearly 7,000 teenagers avoid the draft each year, with 16% of soldiers serving only one year. The 48% of teenagers who do not serve in the army includes religious Jews and Israeli Arabs, IDF spokeswoman Aliza Landes told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. Herman said Israeli Arabs, religious Jews, and celebrities, such as supermodel Bar Rafaeli, should still be required to serve their country in some manner. "If someone does not join the army, today there is no law that says that they should do civil service instead, so many are not volunteering," she said. "My son has served three years in the army, and [draft-dodgers] are not serving in other means at all." While the Israeli Forum for the Promotion of Equal Share in the Burden has only 20 full-time members, who are mainly parents of soldiers, the group has collected 15,000 signatures in support of the change in legislation, said Miri Baron, the group's founder. The forum is planning a protest in Tel Aviv on July 25 to promote required service, Baron said, adding that "if nobody fixes the situation, there won't be a future here." Among the women who did not enlist in the army this year, 33% received waivers on religious grounds and another 10.9% were exempt for medical reasons, low test scores, living abroad or marriage, Landes said. Of men, 11% received waivers on religious grounds with another 17% exempt for medical reasons, low test scores, criminal records or living abroad. Although the majority of people who refuse to serve in the army do so for religious reasons, there are also secular Israelis who become "draft-dodgers" for political reasons or a desire to join the workforce. Moshe, who withheld his last name in order to avoid attention from the army, has ignored his draft call for half a year. "I don't want to serve because Olmert and the people in the Knesset are liars," he said, adding that for three years' service, he wanted more money than the army would pay. Moshe is not performing national service and has not faced any difficulty from army officials. "No trouble, no police," he said. Herman said soldiers were at a disadvantage compared to draft-dodgers, who can begin working and earning money sooner. "The inequality is when some people are going through the university at age 18 when others are giving blood and, in the worst case, dying for this country," she said. Draft-dodgers generally face one month of active imprisonment for every year they avoid military service, Landes said, adding that two or three people who have avoided service for over a year are arrested daily. Although many religious women do not serve in the army, 10,000 women performed national service in 2007, the Post reported last August. An estimated 12,000 women are doing national service this year, Baron said. Religious women choose to forego army service for reasons including the dress code and the interaction between men and women. "I can't do it because I'm religious and there are boys and girls together," said Chen Mor, 16. "I think I can do something better to give back to the country. I'm planning on community service." Chen added that it was important for religious men to enlist in the army. "Boys need to be in the fight and girls need to be at home waiting and encouraging," she said. Still, some religious women do serve in the army, wearing skirts instead of the standard uniform pants. "I can be religious and be in the army," said one woman who serves as a soldier-teacher in the army, but she added that "if I weren't in the department that I am, then I wouldn't be able to join the army." She said she was "happy and proud to be a soldier." Despite the decrease in the number of teenagers who serve, most teenagers said they were anxious to have the opportunity to give back to their country. "I'm excited," said Noa Roterstaion, 15, adding that she was "proud to serve my country." Nahoray Barazani, 17, wants to join a combat unit when he enlists in the army. "I want to help my country," he said.