Pre-army academies roiled by IDF early draft notices, bemoan ‘lack of transparency’

Officials and students say enlistment orders were sent to more students than had been agreed upon; yeshivas not affected

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Young Israelis arrive to the IDF recruitment center at Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv on March 17, 2020.  (Flash90)
Illustrative: Young Israelis arrive to the IDF recruitment center at Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv on March 17, 2020. (Flash90)

Hundreds of students in pre-army, volunteer service programs and yeshivas began receiving early military draft orders Wednesday afternoon, in a recruitment round that has reportedly included more students than had been agreed upon between the various programs and the IDF.

Officials and students told The Times of Israel Thursday that despite weeks of negotiations between the IDF and the pre-army programs, students who were not designated for early conscription have unexpectedly received notices, and the notices were sent out to more students than had been agreed on.

“There are two problems here, in exceeding the number agreed upon and in issuing orders to people who were not on the original list for the draft. We are trying to figure out the numbers,” a pre-army academy official told The Times of Israel, speaking anonymously.

He said changing the agreement without consultation and “without transparency” was leading to a “crisis of trust” between staff and students, and between the administrations and the Defense Ministry.

The IDF and Defense Ministry had said previously that some 1,300 notices would be sent out. The post-high school students would have otherwise finished their programs in June and then enlisted sometime after. It is unclear how many unexpected enlistment notices have been sent in total.

The new recruits were to be drawn from those who will go into combat units, in light of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, the IDF has said.

At some pre-army academies, more than double the agreed-upon number of students received draft notices, the official said. He noted, though, that he had confirmed that Religious Zionist yeshivas had received “the exact” amount of notices they expected.

There was “a very clear division” between how the IDF and Defense Ministry were treating the yeshivas as opposed to pre-army academies and volunteer programs, the official alleged.

The heads of the various pre-army academies and administrators prepared a “very orderly list of who should be recruited, from the numbers requested by the Defense Ministry… [but] it now looks like a big mess,” the official said.

The number of early enlistment notices sent to volunteer service programs was “even more extreme” than those sent to academies, said Yael Rotem, 18, who is doing a volunteer service year in Afula. “We are trying to figure out the numbers.”

Rotem is an activist who has been involved in organizing the opposition to the early draft. “We have no opposition to going to the army; we will all go and give what we can. But, we wanted serve in our volunteer programs this year,” she said.

Much of the volunteer work these programs do can’t be easily handed over to other groups, especially during the current crisis, Rotem stressed. In some cases, especially in programs volunteering in the agricultural sector, most of the male students received call-up notices, effectively “gutting the programs,” she said.

Most of the early enlistment dates are at the end of March or in early April, giving the students some two more months in their programs. Students who have already been accepted into certain IDF tracks will not be subject to early enlistment.

In a statement sent to The Times of Israel, the IDF denied the programs’ claims, saying that “all of the recruits to be enlisted were from a list of names that was sent in advance to the organizations. There was no change in the number of planned inductions, which took into account the recommendations of the organizations.”

The IDF and Defense Ministry announced previously that about 850 trainees will be recruited from the pre-army and community service year programs, and about 450 more from Religious Zionist yeshivas, with an emphasis on those already slated to enlist this year. The number of yeshiva students to be enlisted early originally stood at 150 but was raised to 450 after protests from parents and program directors.

Activists protesting against early IDF recruitment from pre-army academies and volunteer year programs, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Monday, January 5, 2024. (courtesy)

Hundreds of activists protested at the Knesset on Monday against the early recruitment. Organized by groups of volunteer year students and by Mothers on the Front, an activist group formed last year as part of the anti-judicial overhaul movement, the protesters called for the early enlistment order to be reconsidered, arguing the difference in yeshiva numbers and pre-army and community service programs meant the burden was being shared unequally.

The accusation stemmed partly from the fact that while pre-army and community programs are for the most part single-year programs, meaning early recruitment will cause the participants to miss out on key parts of the programs, most yeshiva programs run for two years.

Parents from the Mothers on the Front group with children in community service programs have petitioned the High Court of Justice against the IDF’s original recruitment numbers, with the results expected in a few weeks.

There are dozens of pre-army academies in Israel, with over 4,000 students a year. Acceptance is highly competitive and can involve a lengthy application process. Many pre-army academy students go on to join elite commando units, undergo officer training, or fill other high-level roles in the army.

High school graduates who join service year programs engage in volunteer work of various kinds, in some cases with Jewish communities abroad.

Also on Wednesday, the IDF announced plans to bolster its forces by increasing the time conscripts and reservists will serve. The plans, which still need to be approved by the Knesset, would expand the mandatory service period, increase the amount of time reservists serve each year, and raise the age at which citizens become exempt from reserve duty.

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