Military involvement in Israel


Israeli children wave flags to welcome newcomers at an airport.

In America, it is widely recognized that the military is an institution that aims to protect and preserve freedom. American citizens honor the military: wearing shirts that read “ARMY” and driving cars with “Support our troops” bumper stickers. Though the pride might suggest otherwise, the majority of American society is largely disconnected and removed from the military. This is not the case in every country. Israel is a country that was founded in 1948 after World War II and at the height of the Zionist movement. The military plays an important role in Israeli society because of its unconventional founding and Zionist principles. Due to the way the government is set up, the military plays a prevalent role in the lives of Israeli citizens. The defense spending in the Israeli government is larger per capita than that of most other countries. Israeli defense spending affects society by shaping the religious dynamic of the country, affecting family life, and impacting youth.

Israel is commonly seen as a Jewish state due to the fact that it was founded as a homeland for the Jewish people. This is a misconception, however, because there are people of other religious groups inside of Israel. These religious groups make up the minority of the population, while Judaism is adhered to by the majority of Israeli citizens. The religious dynamic in the Israeli military reflects the religious dynamic of Israeli society. The Israeli military is made up of over 90% Jewish people. Many of the smaller non-Jewish religious minorities do not serve compulsory time in the military. Until recently, ultra-orthodox Jewish men participating in religious studies were exempt from serving in the military. Ultra-orthodox Jews live by strict practices including strict rules on interaction between genders. Recently, ultra-orthodox Jewish men have been brought into physical contact with women in the Israeli military, causing controversy. People from these two demographics occasionally have to physically touch each other during military service, which is usually frowned upon in Israeli society. It is compulsory for most Jews to serve in the military, while it is not compulsory for Christians and Arab Israelis to do so. In these ways, the military forces different religious demographics to interact, which impacts the religious dynamic of the entire country.

The defense spending in the Israeli government affects family life as well. A total of 41% of defense spending goes toward the salaries of the military personnel. These workers have traditionally been Jewish men who bring the money home to support their families. It is compulsory for all Jewish men to spend three years serving in the military between the ages of 18 and 26. Most men choose to carry out this compulsory three years after high school and before college, and a number choose to pursue a permanent career in the military beyond the compulsory three years.  Even for those men who do not choose a permanent career in the military, they are obligated to do one month of military service a year as a reserve until age 45. This mandatory connection with the military forces the entire family dynamic to revolve around the salary and service requirements of the person in the military.

While the military impacts the family dynamic, it also affects the youth of Israeli society. There are many summer youth camps set up by the military that simulate military-like conditions. An example is Camp Palmach which is an historically themed camp that reenacts past battles. These camps are meant to imbue the qualities of the military in youth, but are not compulsory and many choose not to participate in them. Another way in which the military involves the youth is through educational programs. These programs are meant to introduce young people to nationalistic principles and cultivate an allegiance to the state in the future generations.

The extreme integration of the Israeli military into Israeli society is obvious through the impact it has on the religious dynamic of the country, family life, and the education of youth. Domestically, the Israeli military plays a beneficial role in society. The institution of the military in human society rarely serves a philanthropic purpose, but there is no doubt that the hard working principles it imbues in people can have beneficial effects on society.