Israel Cracks Down on Military Dodgers

Israel's hawkish new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been in office for only a little more than a month, yet some Israeli doves say they're already seeing signs of new hardline security measures. Israeli police fanned out in a crackdown on draft dodgers—a problem for the military. Ceramic artist Annelien Kisch, a member of a peace group called New Profile, says four police showed up at her house at 7 a.m., flashed a search warrant and then confiscated two of her computers. Although no charges were filed, authorities say New Profile and another group, Target 21, offer detailed tips on their Web sites about how to evade mandatory military service. Potential draft dodgers "ought to speak softly or stumblingly" at interviews with Army psychiatrists, one post on Target 21 suggests. "A downcast look, a weak tone of voice and obsessive playing with your gun" can also help, the group counsels.

The site includes a disclaimer insisting that the material is not intended as an instruction manual, but the message is clear enough. "It's unacceptable that groups—especially Israeli groups—are inciting like this," says Tal Harel, a spokesman for Israel's Internal Security Ministry. Draft dodging—particularly by women—is on the rise in Israel. According to a recent military report, roughly 44 percent of all eligible women failed to enlist last year, compared with only about one third 20 years ago. Finding loopholes has become common among young Israelis. Though she later claimed she was misquoted and sued for libel, Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli reportedly told an Israeli newspaper in 2007 that dodging service "paid off big time" for her.

To stem the tide of dodgers, the military has begun hiring private investigators to try to determine "what kind of [religious] life they're leading … whether they're out at a disco on a Friday night or driving on the Sabbath," says Lt. Col. Gil Ben-Shaul, an Israeli personnel officer. Some of the activists blame the tough new tactics on Israel's new minister of internal security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, a member of the hardline Yisrael Beytenu party. (A spokesman for Aharonovitch says the minister approves of the raids but did not order them.) In any case, the crackdowns seem to be backfiring. Before the raids, New Profile's site got only a few hundred hits each month, activists say. Last week it got nearly 2,000.