Israelis Furious Over Fictitious Army Enlistments
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli leaders on both left and right raged Tuesday against a rare common enemy: a scheme that allows middle-aged ultra-Orthodox Jews to get veteran’s benefits without ever serving in the army.
Public disclosure of the arrangement renewed the simmering resentment many non-observant Israeli citizens feel for ultra-Orthodox Jews and their demands to change Israeli society to fit their religious beliefs.
Shulamit Aloni, head of the left-wing Citizens’ Rights Movement, suggested the doling out of military benefits to men who never serve was a way to reward ultra-Orthodox political parties.
″This is part of an agreement to take advantage of the defense minister’s authority to give money to this public who eats but never pays,″ Aloni said.
Parliament member Ran Cohen, who uncovered the scheme, said the ultra- Orthodox were insulting the average Israeli man who is drafted into the army for three years and serves in the reserves until age 54.
″They play act as if they want to go into the army, but they don’t want to contribute to the army. They want the money,″ Cohen said.
He said hundreds and perhaps thousands of religious Jews 35 to 50 years old were receiving benefits without ever serving in the army.
As Cohen explained the arrangement, ultra-Orthodox Jews enlist in the army after getting exemptions for the draft for years of study of the Torah.
Typically, the men are in their late 30s or 40s when they enlist, and they are never called up to actually serve because of their age and because they often are fathers of large families, Cohen said.
But, he added, they are still eligible for higher benefits as ″veterans.″ The benefits are especially important to big Orthodox families because every Israeli with three or more children gets a government stipend.
For example, an Israeli family of seven receives $213 monthly, but the same size family headed by a veteran is eligible for $408. The difference rises with the number of children.
Israel television said a senior military forum headed by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron debated the issue Tuesday.
The military command also issued a statement insisting it was not responsible for the government stipends, which are handled by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry. It said religious Jews drafted into the army ″serve in active reserve duty in accordance with the needs.″
The army said it saw as its duty to draft religious men who have completed their studies at religious seminaries. Their number the last five years has totalled 4,000, it said.
Of these, 24 percent were found unfit for service, more than 50 percent were drafted into regular and 24 percent into reserve units, the military said.
″It should be stressed that there was no major increase in the last year in the number of seminary students drafted into the army, and those mobilized cannot know beforehand what they would do during reserve service,″ the statement said.
Lawmaker Uriel Lin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s ruling right-wing Likud bloc reacted to Cohen’s charges by calling for an army investigation. ″The law cannot be made into a joke and the people of Israel cannot be turned into a joke,″ he said.
Cohen’s complaints, printed on front pages of Israeli newspapers Tuesday, also brought angry phone calls to radio talks shows.
Israelis, most of whom are non-observant Jews, regularly complain about military exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox.