The IDF: A citizens’ army vs. a professional army

8 Nov

by Ilan Bloch

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It is clear that a sovereign government has the right to conscript its citizens in order to raise an army to defend the state. This is similar to the right of the sovereign to tax its citizenry in order to pay for services from which all citizens derive benefits, either direct, for example, pensions, or indirect, for example, defense.

Notwithstanding this, it is questionable whether universal conscription to the IDF is a cost-effective method of defending the country. Indeed, it is probable that it entails a considerable waste of valuable resources. The IDF should be transformed from a “people’s army” into a professional army. Members of the professional armed forces would need to receive appropriate remuneration since the army would be competing for manpower against civilian sectors of the economy, both private and public. The professional army would be in the public sector and, as a starting point, salaries of the armed forces would need to correspond to the salary scales applying in the civil service, with the salaries of ordinary soldiers (privates) corresponding to the salaries of the junior civil servants and the salaries of senior officers corresponding to the salaries of the higher rungs of the civil service. If these salary scales are not sufficient to attract the required numbers for a professional army, additional benefits would have to be provided, for example, higher salaries or free university education.

One might argue against this proposal, considering it would undermine the role of the IDF as an instrument for the socialization and integration of people from many different countries and backgrounds with the aim of creating a cohesive Israeli nation. But, this should be considered a positive step. The purpose of an army is to provide defense and security. The IDF should not have an educational role except in relation to military matters and military ethics. This circumscribed role in order to prevent the militarization of Israeli society.

The army should be responsible for all matters of defense, including all matters relating to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The argument that the people’s army should not have been used to facilitate the evacuation of Jewish communities/settlements in the Gaza Strip obfuscates the reality that the effective governing power in Gush Katif was not the Council or the settlement leaders, but rather the Israeli Minister of Defense. In order to prevent the current situation of hafrada (separation) between Israeli citizens and other Judea and Samaria/West Bank residents, only the IDF (and not the IDF for Palestinians, and the Israel Police for Jews) should be used to preserve law and order for all residents of, and visitors to, Judea and Samaria/the West Bank. The notion of preserving the integrity of the people’s army should not be used as a pretext for discriminating between residents of Judea and Samaria/the West Bank based on their ethnicity and religion.

If, however, the IDF is to remain a people’s army, then the burden of serving must be shared more equitably. All citizens – including Israeli Palestinians and Haredim – should be drafted for national service for an identical period, whether this national service is military or civil in nature. Before such comprehensive changes can be made, programs that allow for special dispensations for particular population groups (e.g. Haredim) should be allowed, in order to ease the transition from the current draft situation to that of a desired universal draft. Moreover, increased Haredi participation in the job market is a more important and urgent goal than increased Haredi participation in the IDF, and therefore special IDF programs in the spirit of the Tal Law (2000) should be embraced for now, as they serve a more urgent and more immediate goal.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.


3 Responses to “The IDF: A citizens’ army vs. a professional army”

  1. Simon Nothman November 13, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    Your assertion that a professional army would be more financially efficient is, almost certainly, a truism. Your suggestion that it would do the same job, however, is untrue and somewhat misses the point.

    The value of compulsory service is not in its educational role, though this is a handy side effect, but rather is the fact that it trains soldiers for reserve service, allowing for recruitment of many times the active service numbers in times of need. Unfortunately israel’s history is replete with reserve call-ups; the time for transformation to a professional army without significant reserve capacity, sadly, is not yet here.

  2. Davyd Tal November 13, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    Correct – a small professional army makes economic sense.
    But then so does importing low-paid workers & selling state-owned utilities to professional (overseas) concerns.

    My point is that this discussion cannot be taken from solely an economic standpoint.
    Abolishing compulsory national service will accelerate the Post-Zionist “I-Me-Mine” effect.

    I am not suggesting that Zionism is the best of all possible ideologies, but a “people’s army” forms a central part of a collective spirit. Even in a democracy.

    Most Israelis are brought up to accept that doing something for the State is a natural and good thing (perhaps apart from paying taxes); while those who exempt themselves from national service by hiding behind an aura of “holier than thouness” are simply feeding off others.

    The current system serves to ward off fears of a civil war – how can I hate my neighbor for his opposing views when we train & fight hand-in-hand twice a year?


  1. Israel: To serve or not to serve? | Beyond The Yew : Saying NO to Globalism! - November 8, 2011

    […] The IDF: A citizens’ army vs. a professional army […]

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