On July 16, 2018, the Knesset plenum passed on second and third reading the Pre-Military Leadership Academies (Amendment) Act of 5778/2018, sponsored by MK Omer Barlev and a multipartisan group of other legislators.
The amendment changes the definition of a mechina (pre-military leadership academy) so that mechina students can include young people with disabilities who are to volunteer in the security forces but have medical exemptions from regular service, with corresponding budgetary allocations from the Ministry of Defense.
MK Barlev became familiar with the issue during his work on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. When he visited IDF bases and Mossad facilities, he witnessed young men and women with disabilities serving their country, and he saw that the IDF and the Mossad were well served by the unique abilities of these young people and their uncommon achievements. “On one visit to the Mossad,” said Barlev, “a friend told me that some of the young people would have liked to go to mechinot, but the law that funds the mechinot defines a student only as an individual who is required to enlist in the IDF. According to this definition, young men and women who are exempt from enlistment are not included in the mechina slots that are funded. This is how the proposal to amend the definition in the law came about, so that the mechinot would be able to receive state funds for students with disabilities.”
MK Barlev explained that the intention was to provide for a separate quota for students with disabilities, in addition to the existing students’ quota, and not at their expense. “The minister of defense, Avigdor Liberman, gave me written confirmation that a budget would be provided next year for 70 designated places.” In the previous year, before the law was passed, there were some 30 mechina students with disabilities, but only the mechinot made budgetary allocations for them.
“The most important thing is that the law is kicking off before the beginning of the operating year of the mechinot, in September, and we won’t waste another year.” This is the final week of the Knesset’s summer session, and if the amendment hadn’t gotten through, it would have been put to a vote only during the winter session.
“On an ethical level,” added Barlev, “we gained twice. First, because this is the state’s recognition of the importance of mainstreaming young people with disabilities and providing equal opportunity. Second is the significance of the amendment for the other mechina students, who will get to know the other and engage in group living including mutual responsibility.”
In the explanatory notes to the bill, it was written: “Despite the blanket medical exemption from regular service today given to young people with disabilities, there are those among them who are interested in mainstreaming in the military establishment and choose to volunteer for military service. Some of the mechinot set themselves the goal of helping these young people and formed special programs whose goal is to prepare them for mainstreaming in the security establishment and give them tools for contending with the difficulties and challenges entailed in this process. Despite the importance of these special programs, existing legislation leads to a situation where mechinot are denied budget eligibility for students with disabilities who are to volunteer for military service, because their status is not recognized and due to the fact that they are not candidates for military service. This leads to a budgetary problem for those mechinot and creates a situation where the mechinot are disincentivized to mainstream individuals who are to serve as volunteers. What is more, unique programs with a format similar to that of a mechina not infrequently are not recognized as mechinot because the students are not candidates for military service, as with Ro’im Rahok, which set itself the goal of helping young people on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum who are interested in mainstreaming in the IDF.”
Fifty Knesset members voted in favor, with none against.
Shibolim director Efrat Aharoni, who oversees the mainstreaming of young people with disabilities at the mechinot, applauded this important amendment: “Three years ago, Shibolim got started with the goal of opening the door to equal opportunity for young people with disabilities. In the process of volunteering for the IDF, draft dates can be set only during or after the mechina year, so that diagnoses will be in effect and not outdated. Until today, this fact made it difficult to include individuals granted exemptions under the definition found in the law. From now on, a person who receives an exemption will be able to go to mechina and be funded like all other students—an important step on the way to an inclusive, equitable society.”
Dani Zamir, Esq., CEO of the Joint Council of Mechinot, noted that the impetus and motivation for this project was, from the educational perspective of the mechinot, the understanding that one who educates young people according to notions of responsibility and leadership in a solidary society must cause them to understand that in their peer group and in their community of responsibility, there are individuals with disabilities too. “The mechinot, with the help of this project, are a part of the ongoing struggle for a more just and fairer society in Israel.”