Government raises soldiers’ pay following major backlash over high pensions

Conscripts to receive salary increase of 50% from next year, with best-paid combat troops making just over half of minimum wage

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers seen at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, on May 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers seen at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, on May 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Defense and Finance Ministries on Tuesday announced that they would be raising conscripted Israel Defense Forces soldiers’ pay by 50 percent beginning next year, following a major public backlash against the military over the stagnation of salaries for low-ranking troops while the pensions of retired career officers got a major boost.

“We are making a decision today that will bring justice to those who serve, a major boost that will have significance for the IDF’s force build-up and the continuation [of the military] as a people’s army,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement.

A senior IDF official told reporters that Tuesday morning was a “happy morning” for the military with news of the pay increase. He agreed that the raise was critical for maintaining the legitimacy of mandatory conscription and a so-called “people’s army.” Earlier in the day, the Israel Democracy Institute released a poll showing that for the first time since it has tracked the issue, more Israelis support a professional, volunteer army than the current configuration.

The IDF officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected the idea, saying the “people’s army model is key to our strength” since it ensures that the best and the brightest are also required to serve.

The pay increase, the first for soldiers in more than five years, was due to go into effect in January 2022. Technically, IDF soldiers are not paid a salary, but instead receive “subsistence costs,” which are far lower than minimum wage. This remuneration is primarily meant to provide the soldier with pocket money while at home on leave, originally being based on the costs of things like movie tickets, clothing and restaurant meals.

The officer stressed the importance of this distinction. “I don’t insist on this terminology for no reason. It has to do with the fact that we have mandatory service,” he said.

Currently, the IDF has four payment tiers for soldiers, with troops in frontline units receiving the highest wages of NIS 2,032 ($656) per month, troops in other combat units receiving NIS 1,642 ($530), soldiers in combat-support units receiving NIS 1,195 ($386), and soldiers in administrative units receiving NIS 823 ($266).

With the new pay raise, frontline troops will receive NIS 3,048 ($984), combat troops will receive NIS 2,463 (795), combat-support troops will receive NIS 1,793 ($579), and administrative soldiers will receive NIS 1,235 ($399) each moth. Minimum wage in Israel is currently NIS 5,300 ($1,711) per month.

An additional NIS 900 million has been allocated to cover the increase in “subsistence costs,” with half of the money coming from the Defense Ministry’s budget and the other half coming from the Finance Ministry, the senior IDF official said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pays a visit to IDF soldiers stationed near Gaza, on August 17, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The issue of conscripted soldiers’ pay came to the fore in recent months following a contentious battle over the issue of high pensions for career soldiers.

IDF officials maintain that generous retirement packages for career soldiers are necessary in order to incentivize people to remain in the military despite the possibility of earning far higher salaries in the civilian world. As such, the IDF allows service members to retire at the age of 46 and receive a significant monthly pension while being able to supplement that income with a full-time job, along with additional perks in terms of housing and assorted discounts.

A long-fought case in the Supreme Court brought by retired soldiers about the matter required the government to address the issue, which it did by allocating an additional NIS 1.1 billion ($340 million) to the pension fund, despite fierce opposition from the Finance Ministry.

The senior IDF officer said there was “no connection” between the pay increase and the recent battles over the pensions.

In a statement, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said the pay raise was a “sign of appreciation and recognition for IDF service.”

“This decision exemplifies our responsibility and obligation as leaders toward those who contribute to the country and represents a change in the priorities that this government brings,” Liberman said.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi hailed the decision, saying the pay increase was part of a larger effort to provide better service conditions for soldiers.

“This program includes, among other things, increasing the envelope of financial support for service conditions and the daily costs of lone soldiers and those who are in need of financial assistance,” Kohavi said.

He added that the military also plans to expand its program “From Uniform to University,” which provides tuition assistance to some released soldiers, making it available to more veterans.

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