Why no Love for Jobnikim

February 28, 2012 by Raffe Gold
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Yair Lapid, Israel’s newest political star, berated the Shas Party the other day for harming the State of Israel and endangering the middle class who ‘carry this country on their backs’ with their refusal to participate in civil life or serve in the army…writes Raffe Gold.

Raffe Gold

Shas replied mockingly that ‘as someone who risked his life for the country while serving at an army newspaper…Lapid has been trying to blind the public with verbal trickery’. The words themselves reveal an Israeli culture that seeks to disrespect anyone who did not serve in a combat unit. Jobnikim, those whose service in the army is primarily desk-based, have often been derided for failure to adhere to the Israeli macho ideal of their soldiers. It is something that has to change in the age of technological warfare, the supreme importance of intelligence and the fact that every soldier needs to eat.

This is in no way meant to mock the service of combat soldiers. They serve an incredibly difficult life with little pay, spend weeks away from their families and risk their lives in both combat and training in order to keep us safe. So it’s important to highlight the fact that the jobnikim, who serve their country just as diligently and proudly, are derided for the fact that their service helps, reinforces and supports combat troops. A single combat soldier cannot head into battle without a sophisticated and relatively smoothly run bureaucracy behind it. A soldier needs armor and a weapon in order to fight, and for the best and most reasonably priced, a tender process has to be part of a modern army’s methodology. Failure to properly tender will see Israel immersed in the sort of Pentagon rip-offs which nearly sent America into bankruptcy.
A soldier has to know who and what his target is, which means he also needs a large, skillful and accurate intelligence agency to gather, analyze and process raw intelligence. This doesn’t even begin to take into account the drivers, clerks, administrators, spokespeople, foreign liaisons and mechanics who make up a modern army. And soldiers need to eat; they can’t fight or defend unless they’re thinking of the enemy, not their stomachs.

All countries admire their heroes and Israel is no different. There is, however, a cult of personality that comes with our Zionist idols. Israeli children are taught of the brave soldiers of the Haganah (or the Irgun depending on their parents political persuasion), they are regaled with the story of Yoni Netanyahu and the Entebbe Raid, of the Six Day War and Operation Spring of Youth. The attention that Israel pays to the prestige of combat soldiers translates to a strong desire for youths to follow in their footsteps.

The IDF Personnel Directorate indicated a rise in eligible draftees applying for combat units. 80% of those who showed up at the draft office expressed an interest with going into one of Israel’s numerous combat units; this is an increase in 10% since 2007. Teenagers that are going into the army are imagining that they could be Sayerot Special Forces soldiers whilst very few of them think how great it would be to be a newspaper journalist or warehouse driver. These are jobs that are equally important for a modern day battlefield yet derided.

The discouraging attitude towards jobnikim is reflected not just in civilian life but also within the army itself. Talking to jobniks within the IDF many of them have reported harassment and discrimination by combat soldiers. Some soldiers have been insulted by supposed co-workers and declared that their service is a waste of IDF money, which has become a precious resource since recent budget cuts.

But how valid, let alone fair, is this attitude of the soldiery to the bureaucracy? Compare the nature of warfare and how much it has changed over the last hundred years. Technological advances, the changing battlefield to a more urban setting and the introduction and enforcement of laws of war have forced armies to adjust their tactics and what weapons they have to use. It has also begun to force armies to depend more on those who sit at a desk or play relatively obscure non-combat roles. A soldier who writes for the army newspaper can help shape the conflict for an international audience, an intelligence analyst can process raw information and determine who is a target and who is an innocent civilian and a clerk and chef can ensure that the soldiers who do go off to fight do so with the right weapons and a full stomach. These are jobs that, while far from glamorous, have helped the IDF become the army that Israelis remain proud of to serve in.

With Israel facing an uncertain future, the old autocrats of the Middle East falling and the protesters in Tel Aviv demanding changes, Israel’s macho society must adjust her perspective. It must always continue to support those who bravely go into battle to defeat jihadists, terrorists and other fanatics that threaten our existence, but it must also understand that the soldiers do not march into battle alone. They do so with the support of an entire bureaucracy that makes every movement possible. The bureaucracy is massive and, at times, unwieldy but it as essential for the continued existence of the IDF. Perhaps Shas politicians, who insist that their constituents do not serve in the army, should thank, and not mock, Yair Lapid for his service.


One Response to “Why no Love for Jobnikim”
  1. jj says:

    interesting piece, Raffe – well written!

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