JERUSALEM (Sep. 27)
The Israel Defense Force seems to have thrown cold water on allegations by two left-wing politicians that “thousands” of ultra-Orthodox Jews are receiving veterans benefits without ever having served in the armed forces.
According to statistics released by the IDF on Wednesday, of the 4,000 religious males who waived their yeshiva student deferred status to enlist during the last five years, only 141 were not called to active duty.
And they had no foreknowledge that such would be the case, the IDF said.
The release of the figures, in consultation with Chief of Staff Gen. Dan Shomron and the head of the IDF Manpower Division, took the wind out of charges leveled by Knesset member Ran Cohen of the Citizens Rights Movement and former Knesset member Meir Pail of the defunct Sheli party.
They added fuel to the bitter controversy over the deferral of yeshiva students Monday by claiming that Orthodox Jews who enlist in the IDF in their late 30s and 40s are not called to active duty but use their enlistment documents to obtain higher national insurance and child welfare payments reserved for veterans.
Cohen and Pail, both ranking officers in the IDF reserve, noted that in the case of a father of eight or 10 children — not uncommon in ultra-Orthodox circles — the gain in payments can top $500 a month.
Their charges, replete with facts and figures, were aired on television Monday night and carried in all major dailies Tuesday.
Religious spokesmen denied them and branded the media coverage a “smear campaign.”
Many Israelis, who are subject to compulsory military service, resent the deferrals given Orthodox youth as long as they pursue their religious studies and do not work.
Informed sources estimate over 20,000 deferrals. A significant proportion, however, eventually enlist. But by then they are much older men usually with large families and the military service required of them is minimal.
After stints of duty, they join the reserves or the civil defense.
Moshe Gafni, a deputy minister of religious affairs, said that even recruits who have not actually served are entitled by law to benefits. These men enlisted, Gafni said, and if the army declines to use them, it is not their fault.
The IDF made it clear that the regulations governing national insurance payments are not a military matter or its concern.