(JTA) — The rate of enlistment into the Israel Defense Forces has dropped by 3.5 percent over the past five years, army sources said.
In 2016, the IDF saw the conscription of 72 percent of people who are initially listed as duty bound to serve in the military, Army Radio reported Wednesday.
Among the 28 percent who do not enlist are tens of thousands of haredi Orthodox Jews, who once were allowed an automatic exemption from serving until a 2014 law decreed they sign up for the army or other frameworks by 2017. Others in that category include people who are exempt on medical grounds and a small minority of conscientious objectors.
The decrease in the rate of enlistment reflects primarily a growth in the haredi demographics rather than a drop in the motivation of recruits to serve, Army Radio reported.
The number of conscripts serving in the IDF is classified. Estimates in foreign publications and agencies range from 250,000 to 380,000 soldiers on active duty, plus another 400,000 reserve troops.
While many haredim still avoid military service, the army met its 2015 goal for increasing haredi participation in its ranks, according to the radio report. The news site Walla reported that the IDF last year saw at least 2,300 haredi recruits, a record, compared to 1,972 the previous year.
A steady rise has been recorded over the past five years also in the conscription of women, especially religious women who can easily receive an exemption from military service.
In 2016, the IDF recruited four times as many female soldiers than in 2010, according to Army Radio, leading to the opening of several new coed battalions. Separately, the number of religious female conscripts has increased by 50 percent during that period.
Most Arab Israelis are automatically exempt from serving but may volunteer. Men from the Circassian and Druze minorities are subject to mandatory conscription. Bedouin men are encouraged and in some cases invited to enlist, but it is not mandatory.