Photo Credit: Ministry of Defense
Former Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz give presents to disabled Israeli soldiers. April 13, 2011.

While the Knesset Welfare Committee saw a violent eruption of angry disabled activists Tuesday, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities with a debate of the integration of persons with disabilities into the security establishment. The discussion was led by MK Mordhay Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi).

MKs who participated in the meeting said they are being approached by numerous disabled youngsters who complain about the lengthy process of volunteering for the IDF.

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Yael Fisher-Weiner, who oversees the IDF Volunteers Department’s website, said the army has implemented a reform in the handling of disabled youngsters looking to volunteer. “We are working to shorten the process so that these youngsters may begin their service at approximately the same time as their friends do,” she said, adding that the number of disabled recruits has increased over the past year.

A representative of the Shin Bet (General Security Service) said the service has had disabled employees for years, “but there was a breakthrough this past year.”

He noted that his organization seeks certain “golden characteristics” in a candidate, and for those who meet the criteria, “their disability does not matter and the core jobs in technology and administration are open to them.”

Currently, he reported, the agency employs 15 people with significant functional disabilities.

Representatives of the Mossad told the committee that in early 2016 the intelligence agency’s director issued a directive regarding the employment of disabled people and demanded quarterly reports on the recruitment of disabled employees. They said the agency hires 10 disabled people a year, on average, in addition to 10 volunteer soldiers. They estimated that the agency currently employs some 100 disabled people.

MK Yaakov Perry (Yesh Atid) noted that, according to the press, some 2,000 disabled youngsters ask to serve in the IDF each year, and some 550 are recruited. “The army needs to understand that (IDF service) contributs greatly to these youngsters, as well as to those who serve with them,” he said.

MK Amir Ohana (Likud) quoted Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who said, “Difficult, meaning possible.”

“Here we see the realization of these words,” MK Ohana said.

MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Camp) said, “Despite the efforts that have been described here, and I do not take them lightly, I want to hear about plans to increase these numbers in the next five years. We mustn’t settle on a plateau where these people reach the entry gate to Israeli society but remain stuck there.”

Sergeant Noam, a disabled soldier who serves in the Intelligence Corps, told the committee members, “I learned at home about the duty to serve, and I am very honored to be a soldier.”

Noya, a resident of Shoham, is nearing the recruitment age, told the committee, “All my life I have been fighting very severe learning disabilities. My brother is thriving in the army, but I feel as though the army is not accessible to me and does not want weak people such as myself.”

MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Camp) said the recruitment of more disabled people to the army would have a positive effect on Israeli society as a whole. “It is clear from Noya’s words that she does not have to prove how motivated she is, and she will be able to climb any mountain, so you should resolve the issue before [she reaches enlistment age],” he said.

Committee Chairman MK Avi Dichter (Likud) said, “Many meetings are held in this room, but only a few are as moving.”

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