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Poll of Discharged IDF servicemen finds 95% would have taken same

Sunday, October 2, 2016 7:49
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The Moderate Ex-Servicemen
A recent study examined how compulsory national service in the IDF affects
the social views of individuals: does he/she become a nationalist extremist,
suffering from the intoxication of power, or just the opposite?
Ronen Itzik | 2/10/2016 Contact author

The majority of Israeli youth enlist in IDF for compulsory service. Only a
few people, if any, have ever asked how this service affects the social
views of the individual: does he/she become a nationalist extremist,
suffering from the intoxication of power, and are the servicemen exposed to
religious influence, or do the discharged servicemen experience a change of
views relative to the high school students before their recruitment?

These questions should be presented in view of the processes we are
witnessing within today’s Israeli society: the radicalization and the
shallow, superficial discourse, the trend of politicizing every issue and
the tendency to accentuate the differences rather than the similarities.
Moreover, it is important to examine whether the compulsory service
reinforces individualism, which is the hallmark of the western world today,
or contributes to collectivism and solidarity, which is what the first
Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, had in mind when he decided to
establish the Israel Defense Forces according to the “People’s Army” model.

In the context of the study I conducted, which examined the questions
outlined above, I sampled hundreds of youngsters and discharged servicemen
(those discharged over the last five years). By comparing their views, I
examined the changes that take place pursuant to the compulsory service term
in IDF or the Border Guard.

The surveying platform was based on social media, through which I
distributed a questionnaire that examined personal views around the issue of
pluralism (tolerance toward different individuals and agreement regarding
the rules of democracy), patriotism, integration of members of minority
groups, the status of women and so forth.

The data collection effort was conducted between August 2014 and May 2016
and the level of response was high. It should be noted that the data were
consistent across the different periods, despite Operation Protective Edge
of July 2014 and the recent wave of terrorist attacks. The study
participants constitute an approximate representative sample of the
population serving in IDF (compulsory service) with regard to the aspects of
religious affiliation, nationality, gender and service characteristics
(combat, combat support or rear area). With regard to geography, the
respondents included inhabitants of all parts of the country, including
Judea and Samaria, but in the appropriate proportions, so that the sample
did not include any group that exceeded its relative strength within the
general population, which could have prejudiced the findings.

The findings of the study have thus far pointed to a process of moderation
among discharged servicemen compared to high school students in the manner
they characterize their identity. Discharged servicemen presented a
national-liberal identity: on the one hand, they identify with the flag, the
national anthem, IDF and Israeli society as a collective, while on the other
hand they present a higher ability to accommodate and accept different
individuals within society. Accordingly, the value of pluralism, which is
significant in democratic society, is enhanced in the context of the
compulsory military service.

Discharged servicemen present an identity that is less religious than that
of high school students. They are tolerant toward the religious public and
religion, but identify more with the state and its symbols, as stated above.
An interesting finding arose with regard to the question of the City of
Jerusalem, which most of the respondents regarded as a unified city well
into the future. Most of the respondents did not agree with the idea of
having the national anthem changed so that it may enable solidarity by
members of minority groups. Only 6% of the respondents did not regard
reform/progressive Jews as Jews, and a similar percentage regarded rulings
based on Jewish law (Halacha) as an authority superior to government

Along the same lines, an absolute majority among discharged servicemen
indicated that they significantly assisted the integration of members of
minority groups in Israeli society, compared to the high school students who
regarded this value as less important. In this context it is important to
note that the high school students considered the military service as a
“contribution to society”, compared to ex-servicemen of previous
generations, who regarded the military service as a “contribution to
national security”.

A Majority for Women in Combat Roles

Another finding of the study indicated that an absolute majority among
discharged servicemen (more than 80%) do not see any problem with women
serving in combat units. This was the view maintained by 84% of the male
respondents and by 91% of the female respondents. Among the high school
students, this issue received about 70% support.

An absolute majority (more than 95%) of the respondents indicated that if
they had to enlist in IDF again, they would have opted for the same career,
with the emphasis on combat servicemen. This finding correlates with another
finding, according to which 80% of the respondents do not think that the
military service model should be changed to a professional military model –
with identical results obtained among the discharged servicemen and the high
school students. The findings also indicated that discharged servicemen
regard the security threat as less severe compared to the high school
students. This finding was particularly prominent among discharged combat

The findings of the study indicated that the level of patriotism was similar
when the two population groups were compared, with more than 80% of the
respondents positioning themselves in a high category in this context (5 or
6 on a scale of 1-6). It was further indicated that the journey to Poland in
the eleventh grade, in which 60% of the respondents had participated, had a
positive effect on their level of patriotism, but had no effect whatsoever
on the level of their motivation to serve in IDF.

So, the findings of the study indicate an enhanced level of pluralism
pursuant to the compulsory military service, an enhanced level of
patriotism, an identity that is less religious and more national but not
nationalistic – rather one that accepts the other and supports the
integration of minorities. The confidence shown in the service of women in
combat units is interesting and reflects a high level of openness among
discharged servicemen.

These findings could place in doubt the allegations regarding the so-called
“religionization” that have been voiced in recent years across the
background of the tensions between the IDF Rabbinate and the IDF Corps of
Education. The findings do not indicate any such phenomenon. In this context
it should be noted that the religious-secular tension was conceived by all
of the respondents as insignificant and as not posing a risk to the
solidarity of Israeli society, compared to the tension between Jews and
Israeli Arabs, which was conceived as dangerous to the state. It should be
noted that 58% of the respondents did not support the dismissal of Arab
Members of Knesset by other Members of Knesset, and only 17% would not have
liked to have an Arab neighbor.

The most interesting finding involves the motivation to enlist in IDF,
which, as stated, are currently conceived as more “socially oriented” and
less “national security oriented”. This may indicate that IDF are conceived
by the Israeli youngsters as a social enterprise above anything else. This
does not mean that the national security motivation has disappeared – it
still exists and is highly influential, but the social motivation, as
stated, is very prominent.

In view of the social radicalization processes reflected in the media, these
findings may be regarded as encouraging, as they indicate that the next
productive generation (people in their 30s) is more tolerant, more allowing
and more open. In this context, the compulsory service in IDF makes a
considerable contribution to social solidarity and values. Without a doubt,
Ben-Gurion would have been proud of the enterprise he had established in
light of the basic social assumptions that faced him back in 1948.

These findings could help countries in the West reevaluate their national
service model, as all of them had switched to the professional military
model and only a small percentage of the population actually takes part in
the national security effort. These countries, which are currently
preoccupied with issues of immigration and where internal tensions intensify
against the background of the terrorism threat, should rethink the format of
their national service and consider reinstating the “People’s Army” model,
as its influence on social solidarity, as outlined above, is considerable.


Col. (res.) Ronen Itzik is a doctoral candidate and lecturer at the School
of Political Science, University of Haifa


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