Photo Credit: Flash90
Orthodox Jewish men arrive at the IDF enlistment base near Tel Hashomer, August 1, 2013.

IDF data that summarize the last complete recruitment year, 2018, show an alarming rise in the number of exemptions from military service, Maariv reported Friday morning.

The figures also show that, in 2018, there was a 30% increase in the number of deferments for alleged mental illness: 4,500 young Israelis received an exemption, compared to 3,500 in 2017.

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According to the data, of the 4,500 who received exemptions, 44.7% are Haredim, 46.6% are secular, and another 8.7% received religious-Zionist education.

Exemption from military service in Israel is covered by the Israeli Security Service Law which exempts recruits on the grounds of medical or psychological reasons; marriage, pregnancy or parenthood; religious reasons for women only; conscious objection (which is approved only in rare cases – DI); and studying in a Yeshiva (which is at the heart of a legislative controversy these days – DI).

The IDF HR indicate an unusual trend emerging from the 2018 data: in the past year alone, there has been a 100% increase in cases of young people arriving with documents showing they suffer from schizophrenia-related mental illnesses.

The share of exemptions for mental health reasons among the Haredi recruits is higher than in any other sector, but the military stresses that these exemptions are handed out in all the sectors of Israeli society and in all the recruitment stations around the country.

For example, the data show that over the past two years, the number of mental health exemptions in the secular sector increased from 1,625 to 2,097, while the religious sector saw an increase from 262 psychiatric exemptions in 2017 to 391 in 2018.

The IDF is also concerned that in Israel’s elite high schools which are considered to produce the highest quality soldiers and represent a high socio-economic segment of society, more than 10% of the boys avoid enlistment for mental reasons.

IDF HR officers are convinced that in a large number of the cases, especially given the staggering increase in psychiatric exemptions last year, the deferments are being given too easily, and without real medical justification. The main problem in this area has been that most young people arrive at the recruitment stations with documents signed by psychiatrists indicating mental problems, which compel the army to let them go.

The HR officers believe that the shame barrier that used to motivate young Israelis into service has been breached, and these young people are no longer ashamed of receiving psychiatric deferments. Also, in 2003, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that employers may not require information on the military service of job seekers, unless such service is relevant to the position. And the 1988 Equal Opportunities Act was revised in 2013 to prohibit employers from asking candidates about their military service.

The IDF reportedly intends to start challenging the psychiatric affidavits furnished by recruits, to see if some of them may have been issued or presented illegally.

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