Implications of the IDF’s Minority Strategy

While I generally believe that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) support the integration and acculturation of Israel’s minorities into mainstream society via the military experience, news that the IDF has opened an exclusive new software testing course only for Ethiopian soldiers is yet another sign of increasing segregation within Israel’s military. As someone who suffered equally alongside immigrants from all over the world during my army service I am deeply disturbed by the implications of this decision.

Some brief thoughts:

1) I do not want to heap all the blame on the IDF. This is first and foremost a critique of the Israeli education and absorption systems (whose failures the IDF is frequently compelled to rectify) who often do not meet the needs of immigrants, Ethiopians being just one group within that population.

That said, the Ethiopian community has found it a particularly trying process. The military is a world apart, and according to reports Ethiopian soldiers are five times more likely to land themselves in military prison or desert the IDF entirely. This is partially cultural, and partially socio-economic as many draftees are leaving behind their families who live in bad neighborhoods and do not possess sufficient Hebrew to navigate the myriad of issues that face them on a daily basis. Israeli society continues to wrestle with latent (and occasionally open) racism.

2) In response to these issues, the IDF has gone to extreme lengths to develop better methods to integrate Ethiopians into the military, and many of these measures should be applauded, but one cannot ignore the growing trend of the IDF to separate minorities in different units to meet the needs of each community (e.g. Haredim, Bedouins). Perhaps it is truly out of a desire to help. Perhaps this is based out of a desire to avoid conflict. But given the IDF’s unofficial (and historical) role as melting pot and equalizer of classes and ethnicities it seems like those values are being abandoned for the sake of obtaining the maximum out of every individual soldier, regardless of whether it leaves them feeling segregated. This is a short term solution with major long term consequences.

3) The solution to this problem may require an institutional and cultural revolution within Israeli society itself – the IDF is a generally reactive body that reflects greater trends within the country – but its leadership should be aware enough to prevent the corruption of its core values, no matter how painful and costly the process.

Posted on by Gabriel in Israel