The people’s army? 47 percent of Israelis want IDF to go professional

Israeli attitudes around shouldering the burden for national security appear to be changing.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The IDF has long been a defining feature of Israeli culture, with the Jewish State having the distinction of being the only country in the world with mandatory conscription for males and females alike.

Officially, all Jewish Israelis are subject to the draft at the age of 18. Those who are perceived as draft dodgers, such as Haredim, are often seen as shirking their responsibility to the state and are the object of public scorn.

But Israeli attitudes around mandatory military service appear to be shifting. According to a new poll from the Israeli Democracy Institute, nearly half of Israelis believe the IDF should abolish the mandatory draft and move to a volunteer model.

The survey found that 47 percent of the 1,000 Israeli adults polled believe the IDF should end mandatory conscription. 42 percent expressed that they believe recruitment should continue in its current form.

The results are a significant departure from previous sentiment around the issue. In 2019, only 41 percent of Israelis supported ending the mandatory draft, and in 2017, that number was only 38 percent.

“The fact that 47 percent of the Jewish population believes that the mandatory draft should be abolished and the IDF transformed into a professional fighting force is highly problematic, and has the potential of creating a real security crisis,” Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said in a statement alongside the poll results.

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“Convincing our best and brightest to serve in a professional army will demand unprecedentedly high salaries and benefits, and even then, this will not necessarily attract the quantity of high-quality personnel the IDF needs.”

“We may find ourselves in a situation in which a small minority of idealists serve in the military alongside those who chose to sign up for lack of any better employment options,” he added.

Just over half of 18-year-old Israelis end up drafting to the IDF. With roughly 20% in that age group Arab, another significant portion ultra-Orthodox, and many excused for physical or mental health or financial hardship issues, the number of recruits each year is significantly lower than in the past.