The Israel Defense Forces

Service is compulsory for most Jewish Israelis.

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Jewish Israelis are required to serve, as are male Israelis who are Druse and Cherkessian, two non-Jewish minority groups who are faithful to the state of Israel. Male Bedouin Israelismembers of semi-nomadic tribes in the southern portion of Israeloften volunteer for the draft. Most haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Israelis are exempted from service because they are studying at yeshivot (religious academies), a point of contention between secular and religious Israelis.

The nation's Arab-Israelis are exempt from compulsory army service due to the consideration that their military service might put them into a situation where they would be forced to engage in combat with relatives from neighboring Arab armies. While most Israelisboth Jewish and Arabremain satisfied with this status quo, some have expressed concern that Arab-Israelis' exclusion from mandatory military duty puts them at a distinct social and economic disadvantage because many Jewish-Israelis make social connections and receive training in the army that lay the foundation of their careers after the army service. Some Arab-Israelis now serve in a program similar to the one designed for Orthodox womenSherut Leumi, or national servicethat allows Arab-Israelis to contribute to their country and derive some of the benefits of army service. However, this idea has not gained much acceptance in either the Jewish or Arab sectors of Israel.

Enlistment is a milestone for the Israeli teen, with families throwing parties and videotaping farewells with children at induction centers. Like any army, the service offers a broad range of jobs, ranging from infantry, to intelligence, to the military band. Membership in an elite commando unit carries the most prestige. Competition to get into these units is often fierce, especially to become pilots of combat jets in the vaunted Air Force.  At the same time soldiers who work in an office are often referred to derisively as "jobniks." 

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Joshua Mitnick is a freelance journalist living in Israel. His articles have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, The Toronto Star, The Newark Star Ledger, and The Washington Times.