The following analysis takes a comprehensive look at the historical and contemporary role and influence that the Israel Defense Forces has had in Israeli society, and highlights the benefits of the IDF as a “people’s army”-one which serves as a melting pot and strives to fit the needs of Israel’s ethnically, culturally, religiously, and socio-economically diverse array of citizens.
As a mandatory requirement for most citizens of Israel, many of whom fulfill their military service between the ages of 18-22, the IDF also seeks to equip its soldiers with the professional and educational tools needed to succeed following their service. The leading assumption is that by integration into the IDF, assimilation into Israeli society is easier. The IDF provides vouchers and full financial scholarships to thousands of soldiers needing academic assistance in completing their high school diploma or standardized testing for higher education. The IDF also serves as a training ground for the leaders of the future: For example, soldiers who participate in “Talpiot” , a rigorous academic research and development program, go on to become prominent figures in the academia, high-tech, and defense industries.
Israel is a country known as “a nation of immigrants.” Many of its citizens are Jews from all over the world, bringing their unique culture and traditions from their country of origin. The IDF acts to unite members of Israeli society by integrating soldiers from different backgrounds (recent immigrants from Ethiopia, the former U.S.S.R and other parts of the world, ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews, lone soldiers, soldiers from rural areas, soldiers needing financial assistance) into units, and by providing special programs to these population sectors, their chances of success and improved assimilation in Israeli society dramatically increase upon their release. In order to help with integration, the IDF provides educational programs emphasizing shared Judaism and Zionist values, however, it also seeks to integrate Christian, Bedouin and Druze minorities into its forces, and provides special programs dealing with their needs as well.
The following is a summary of the report’s main statistics:
- Rise in proportion of combat personnel among immigrants: Although there is a reduction in “new immigrants” (defined as those who immigrated to Israel after the age of 16) due to lower immigration rates to Israel, there is a rise in the proportion of new immigrants enlisting in combat roles. Since 1995, there has been an 11% increase in the proportion of Ethiopian immigrants enlisting in combat roles; Among other “new” immigrants, there has been a 20% increase. As a result, combat soldiers are provided with NCOs specializing in immigrant issues, who help them with language and other difficulties, and advise their combat commanders on their special needs.
- Increase in enlistment of Christian soldiers: From 2000-2008, there has been an 86% increase in the enlistment of Christians in the IDF
- Increase in enlistment of Bedouin soldiers: From 2000-2008, there has been a 71% increase in the enlistment of Bedouins in the IDF. 66% of enlisted Bedouin soldiers are in combat roles. Part of the reason for this increase is due to efforts by the IDF to provide service tracks for Bedouin soldiers. Soldiers have the option of enrolling with the Desert Petrol combat unit for two years, after which they receive a year of vocational training (Hebrew studies, completion of high school standardized exams), which helps them after they are discharged from the army.
- Enlistment of volunteers who were exempted due to medical reasons: Despite being exempt from their mandatory military service due to mental or physical difficulties, many still choose to enlist in the IDF as volunteers. The Shiluv Menatzeach program helps over 150 mentally challenged and Down’s syndrome volunteers complete 1-2 years of military service, where they are integrated in roles with the general soldier population.
The entire report can be viewed below: