I try to avoid commenting publicly on what other commentators write; I dread becoming that lowest of all literary creatures: a critic. My act of self-restraint is often most difficult (dare I say heroic?) in the case of Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick. Ms. Glick is a fine writer with strong Zionist values, excellent qualifications, superb contacts, prestige – and, in my personal opinion, a remarkable knack for being wrong about the issues we both care most strongly about.
Still, I have held my peace in public, while complaining bitterly to my wife, my dog, and any other captive audience. But in her latest column, Caroline Glick has gone too far: she has trespassed into the realm of statistics. I may grudgingly tolerate a split infinitive or two (albeit not in my own home), but misuse of numbers is an affront not to be suffered in silence.
Ms. Glick refers to a factoid that has been repeatedly trumpeted since Ariel Sharon unveiled his Disengagement Plan: the supposed dominance of soldiers from the national-religious community in the Israel Defense Forces. The argument goes that as the national-religious provide the backbone of our defense capability, they deserve extra consideration; and certainly we wouldn’t want to offend the sector that keeps us safe from invading Syrian hordes while we wait for Iran’s nukes to arrive.
Glick claims that “the national religious sector makes up some 15 percent of the overall population, yet its sons make up more than 30 percent of combat soldiers in the IDF” – clearly implying that national-religious youngsters are twice as likely to become combat soldiers as their non-national-religious (a.k.a. unwashed heathen) peers. But this is a statistical nonsense.
Remember that Israel does not have universal conscription. The vast majority of Israeli Arabs do not serve in the IDF. Neither do the Haredim (a.k.a. the “ultra-Orthodox”). Israeli Arabs represent about 20 percent of the population, and Jews represent about 76 percent (a figure of 80 percent is often used; discrepancies are likely the result of different definitions of categories). Of the Jewish population, around 9 percent (7 percent of the total Israeli population) are Haredim. This means that non-Haredi Jews constitute about 69 percent of Israeli citizens; this is the population sector that provides the IDF with nearly all of its recruits.
If 69 percent of the Israeli population constitutes the IDF’s recruiting base, and (as Glick affirms) 15 percent of Israelis are national-religious, the national-religious should constitute at least 22 percent (i.e. 15/69) of the available recruits. Considering that the average non-religious Israeli Jewish family has about 2.2 children and national-religious fertility is double that (see Section 4.0 of this article, in PDF format), it would be surprising if the number of eligible recruits coming from the national-religious sector were not at least 30 percent of the total – in fact, based on demographics alone, we might well expect as many as 40-45 percent of all IDF recruits to be national-religious! (Note that since virtually all IDF combat soldiers are male, we don’t have to worry about discrepancies in female recruitment rates between the religious and non-religious sectors.)
So if something betwen 30 percent and 45 percent of the males recruited to the IDF each year are from the national-religious sector, it’s no more than natural that a similar percentage of combat soldiers come from this community; in fact, it’s quite possible that national-religious soldiers are less likely than average to become combat soldiers! The contention that the 30-percent-in-combat-units figure demonstrates some kind of national-religious superiority in patriotism or capability is either the product of mathematical incompetence or else simply an attempt to deceive.
Ms. Glick makes other numerical assertions regarding supposed national-religious dominance in various spheres of IDF excellence. I do not have all her source data, so I’m not in a position to comment on each claim individually. But it’s clear that since she bases all her claims for national-religious superiority on their supposed 15-percent share of the IDF personnel pool, essentially all her conclusions should be cut in half, or even reduced by two thirds.
All this does not mean that everything is rosy. A significant part (but by no means all) of the national-religious community is feeling alienated from the IDF and Israeli society in general. And there is no question that the national-religious sector is important to the IDF and to the State of Israel – after all, by my own calculations the national-religious sector represents a very large portion of the manpower available for IDF recruitment. My principal argument is with the contention that national-religious soldiers are, on average, qualitatively superior to other IDF recruits; at my most charitable, I would say that the numbers fail to support this belief.
Bogus math never strengthens an argument. Caroline Glick is intelligent and well-educated enough to get her numbers right; at the very least, she shouldn’t try to bamboozle us with figures that don’t add up.