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Quarter of israelis dodging draft

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One in four Israeli men dodges the draft

By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 2:11am BST 18/07/2007

One in four Israeli men eligible for national service last year dodged the draft, the highest proportion in the history of the Jewish state.

Figures released yesterday by the Israeli Army showed that in the 2006 intake, just 75 per cent of eligible men joined up. The figures date from before last year's Lebanon war, widely viewed in Israel as a failure, and there are worries that this year's numbers could show an even greater rate of non-participation.

The declining participation rate in a country that since its foundation in 1948 has repeatedly had to use its army to fight for its existence led to strong criticism from officers inside the Israeli army.

"Israeli society has to condemn draft dodgers," an unnamed officer said. "This is not just a military matter, but a social issue as well. Those who do not shoulder their share of the burden have to be made to feel ashamed."

Israeli men can avoid service in several ways. The growing number of Ultra-Orthodox Jews have special dispensation to continue religious studies, while convicted criminals are barred from serving, as are the ill and infirm.

But some young Israelis travel overseas beyond the reach of the army authorities and there is some evidence of people pretending to have mental illness to avoid service.

There have been calls to reverse the decline either by limiting exemptions, or by allowing those with a criminal record to enlist.

The reduced levels of participation reveal a change in attitudes among young Israelis as the memory of the country's early days, surrounded by hostile, aggressive Arab neighbours, becomes more distant.

With peace treaties signed with Egypt and Jordan, the imminent sense of threat is not as strong for today's young Israelis as it used to be.

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