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Charedim in the IDF? An Insider's Perspective
As a sequel to yesterday's post about the IDF massively overstating the numbers of charedim in the IDF, here is an eye-opening account from a friend of mine who served in Nachal Charedi. Please note that the point of this is not that Nachal Charedi is not valuable; it is tremendously valuable. The point is that Nachal Charedi does not indicate that charedi society is more accepting of army service.
Don't let the IDF's spin fool you. The talk of "mistakes", of "an unfortunate mishap", it's all false.
I know. I served for three years in Netzach Yehuda/ Nahal Haredi and can testify that what we have here is nothing less than a systematic campaign by the military to fool the government and the public.
In August 2013, I transferred from the Border Police to Netzach Yehuda. The August draft cycle was the first since then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid passed the Draft Law, and everyone involved had an interest in showing that haredi enlistment was on the rise.
As part of this propaganda effort, Netzach drafted two companies. As IDF veterans know, every combat battalion only drafts one company per tri-yearly draft cycle. But officially, so many haredim were begging to wear army green that they had to establish a second company, probably the first time this happened in the military's history.
The reality, of course, was considerably different. In fact, there were barely enough haredim for one company. So what did they do to maintain the fiction?
They simply went to the IDF's recruitment center in Tel Hashomer, found everyone who refused to serve in non-glamorous units such as tanks and artillery, conscripted them into Netzach, and sold them to the public as 'haredim'.
This brings me to the ultimate policy of dishonesty that was only exposed this morning. The IDF officially counts anyone serving in its ultra-Orthodox units as haredi.
This includes foreign soldiers trying to evade a mandatory three month Hebrew course ("I'm haredi and can't have female teachers"), married Religious Zionist troops who wanted more time at home with their wives, Chabadnikim, and Religious Zionists who didn't want to serve with women.
All of these people were counted in the official statistics. And when we were told that haredi enlistment is on the rise, it didn't mean that more haredim chose to fight for God and country, but that these units simply accepted more people.
Yet even the haredim themselves were not actually haredi. During my service, I saw people in my unit visiting brothels and eating bread on Passover. Shabbat desecration was rampant, daily minyanim were not a thing, and even officers were completely secular. When serving as a commander in the training base, I would often be forced to visit other companies to find a minyan for Mincha because I knew there was no chance I would find it with Netzach guys.
This wasn't a secret. Everyone knew, both in the IDF and out. Yet the official story went on. Journalists would arrive on base, speak to the three actual haredim, and then file a story about "the Ultra Orthodox combat battalions". I even remember how the soldiers selected to visit Defense Minister Bogie Ya'alon in his Sukkah were ordered to replace their knitted kipa with a black velvet one. As the old Canon ad went, "Image is Everything".
You can't fool all of the people all of the time, and the fact that the IDF was exposed cooking the books means we need to do some real thinking. The myth that haredim are running to the military is now demonstrably false, and the stats about their integration in the workforce are also problematic.
This means that the two fastest growing populations in Israel, the haredim and the Arabs, are not serving in the military, live in poverty, are not highly educated, and do not identify with the state.
These two populations already comprise 35% of Israel's total population. What will happen in 2040? Who will work, serve in the IDF, pay taxes, and be doctors?
As the saying goes, a third of the country pays taxes, a third works, and a third serves in the army. The problem is, is that it's always the same third.
If nothing changes, Israel could very well deteriorate into a failed state that cannot take care of its citizenry.