Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Caroline Glick’s bogus math

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.


At Wed May 10, 03:59:00 PM GMT+3, Blogger tafka PP said...

I could be ruder than you in labelling the rhetoric which Glick uses these bogus statistics to underpin. But I will respect your "heroics" and will refrain accordingly.

At Wed May 10, 06:14:00 PM GMT+3, Blogger Savtadotty said...

"How to Lie With Statistics" by Darrell Huff should be required reading for all thinking people. Shame on Carol Glick for shoddy journalism...she can do better.

At Wed May 10, 09:30:00 PM GMT+3, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like it should be easy enough to find out how many conscripts are national religious in a particular year, and compare that to officers rather then extrapolating.

At Fri May 12, 12:58:00 AM GMT+3, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you people are all silly and anyone who has been involved in almost any actual combat unit in tzahal knows that the national relgious are represented to a high percentage and allways amoug the most highly motivated and also very often the best and most determined soliders. The details of the calculations are really not the point. The point is very well made, that Tzhal has become foolishly hippocritical ! It is already clear that such polititization of the army has hurt the motivation of many combat units, and is disdained by many well known leadership figures from the previous ramatkal, boogie on down. In case you did not get the point, too many people in Israel and now even in tzahal have been overrun by the world propaganda disinformation that there is some logic to seeking compromise with the forces of Palestinian terror, a false belief that no Arab country even takes seriously, example: the hamas is illegal in Egypt. How unfourtunate to take part in the continuing use of the "Palestinian" issue, as do most of the arab regimes to promote an agendy which is actully a ruse to cover biligerance and destabilization of the area. Get wise, only a vigilant effort to truly create the rule of freedom and justice for ALL, including a serious revamping of the PA and the total lack of human rights therein, including a solution which involves the massive arab world's massive resourses participating, makes any sence, but too bad so so many commentators and even particpators in the scene aren't really all that clear about the overall facts and their meaning. How sad it is to see even the Israeli secret services become a ploy of a partisian polictical agenda !

At Sun May 14, 01:24:00 PM GMT+3, Blogger Yazan said...

I dont have anything important to comment on ur post, since I'm not in no way an expert on Israeli internal affairs...

But what made me smile, bitterly, was the phrase "Syrian Hordes..."

and bitterly, because israel IS actually the one that's occupying Syria's land.. and here's a quote from one Israeli that I obviously dislike, but also hold respect for.. Moshe Dayan..
"It would happen like this: We would send a tractor to plow someplace of no value, in the demilitarized zone, knowing ahead of time that the Syrians would begin to shoot. If they did not start shooting, we would tell the tractor to keep going forward, until the Syrians in the end would get nervous and start shooting. And then we would start firing artillery, and later also the airforce, and this was the way it was. I did this, and Laskov and Tzur [two previous commanders-in-chief] did it. Yitzhak Rabin did it when he was there , but it seems to me that it was Dado, more than anyone else, who enjoyed these games."

yeah, those hordes would knocking on ur door any second now...

At Sun May 14, 01:53:00 PM GMT+3, Blogger Don Radlauer said...

Hi Yazan!

Could you supply a link to that Moshe Dayan quote? I'd like to check it out - a lot of supposed quotes from various Zionist/Israeli leaders have been either taken way out of context (to the point that their meaning is twisted or even reversed) or out-and-out fabricated. (Remind me to tell you Moshe Dayan's famous definition of the difference between strategy and tactics, BTW - it's priceless.)

The phrase "Syrian hordes" was intended to be slightly humorous - or at least ironic. At the moment, it would seem that the only country that wants a shooting war between Syria and Israel less than Israel does is Syria itself.

So how's Japan treating you?

At Sun May 14, 03:48:00 PM GMT+3, Blogger Yazan said...

The Moshe Dayan qoute is taken from Wikipedia..

I was gonna mention that the Syrian Army is in no shape to fight a group of bank robbers, which is no secret. but still, was a bit painful to admit...

The difference between Strategy and Tactics? Sounds Intersting..

Off Topic, I was actually gonna contact u through email regarding something, off-politics... Just some information about a little Jewish thing that I have, if u dont mind...

Japan's great, so beautiful.. makes u forget sometimes how freaking hard the language actually is.

At Sun May 14, 04:22:00 PM GMT+3, Blogger westbankmama said...

Come on Don, what she said is factually correct. The national religious young men ARE taking up some of the slack created by both the Arabs and the Charedim not serving in the army. Just as the secular men take up some of the slack that is created. YOU are the one who put words in her mouth about so-called "unwashed heathens" - a phrase that I assume she would never use since she is a secular woman herself.

At Sun May 14, 06:19:00 PM GMT+3, Blogger Don Radlauer said...

Yazan: The Wikipedia article is pretty good, detailed and balanced - although there is one quote sourced from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (, which is a virulently anti-Israel site. At least one of the links out of the Wikipedia page is worth following: has a good discussion of the various "borders" pre-1967. Here's some more context of the Moshe Dayan quote. I haven't been able to find any really authoritative source for the quote, but it seems credible enough to me. Note, though, that the "provocations" he was referring to were sending an unarmed tractor into territory that was on the Israeli side of the border; whether ploughing in a demilitarized zone constituted a violation of anything is an open question. (Read the Dayan material in conjunction with the other article about the border.)

Among other things, my research on this issue has convinced me that the British and French diplomats who drew up the "international" border in 1923 were complete idiots. Who draws a border allocating a ten-meter strip of lakeshore to one country, with another potentially hostile country right next door?

By all means contact me off-line about whatever - or just to say hello, for that matter!

I've heard that Japanese is pretty awful for foreigners to learn. I lived for several years in Hong Kong, and Cantonese is also notoriously difficult. It's fun trying, though.

* * *


I'm afraid I must beg to differ with you. Glick doesn't merely say that the national-religious are important to the IDF because there are so many of them in the pool of recruits. She specifically refers to the supposed fact that they are "overrepresented - by a ratio of between 2:1 to 4:1 in all combat units to the level of battalion command in the IDF. During the course of the Palestinian terror war since September 2000, 30 percent of soldiers killed in action were from the national religious camp."

So it's quite clear (from this and from the rest of the article) that she's not simply talking about their numbers, but about their supposed superiority - leading to their "overrepresentation". It's this "overrepresentation" that I believe to be entirely a figment of bad, deceptive manipulation of the numbers.

As I wrote in my original post, the size of the national-religious sector is indeed sufficient to cause concern if a large portion of national-religious youth are feeling alienated from Israeli society and the IDF. If Caroline Glick had limited herself to that point, I'd have no problem with her. But instead, she had to drag out the canard about the national-religious being better than the rest of us - an allegation that is not supported by the numbers, and which, in my opinion, does a lot to increase alienation between the national-religious and the rest of Israel's citizenry.

At Tue May 16, 09:20:00 AM GMT+3, Blogger James J. Na said...

"How to Lie With Statistics" by Darrell Huff should be required reading for all thinking people

I thought it already was. A classic.

Speaking of Ms. Glick, I just spoke to her at some length last Friday in Washington, D.C. where she tried to convince me that there would be no Palestinian demographic question even if the State of Israel were to annex Judea and Samaria.

She said that the Palestinian census figures are fabricated (that's probably true), and that, with Gaza and West Bank annexed, Jews would still outnumber Arabs 2-to-1 in a future Greater Israel.

What I couldn't determine from the conversation, however, was what she proposed to do with the now 33% Arab population of the Greater Israel, were I to accept her math.

At Tue May 16, 10:31:00 AM GMT+3, Blogger Caitlyn said...

A broken clock is right twice a day. I've read Caroline Glick for a long time. She's intelligent and she writes well but she is right far less often than a broken clock. For her to inflate numbers to make a political point doesn't surprise me one bit. She wrote with certainty how Bibi was going to win the election too...

At Tue May 16, 04:29:00 PM GMT+3, Anonymous Ben-David said...

Don - you are confusing the issue by projecting from statistics about the general population. These only tangentially address who is serving in combat units, from the input side of estimating the pool of prospective soldiers.

At least once a year the Israeli press runs articles reporting that 20-25% of draft-eligible secular Israelis dodge the draft.

In fact this has become a badge of honor of sorts among the effete/elite - the most obvious current example being Olmert's shrugging dismissal of his own sons' draft-dodging.

So the actual numbers in the army are much different from your estimates of the potential pool of soldiers.

It's not hard to imagine that the climate of disdain for military service influences secular kids to seek non-combat assignments, leaving the more patriotically motivated religious boys to take up the slack.

So Glick's number is highly plausible.

A quick Internet search turned up several confirming sources, among them this article (in Hebrew) from the IDF's internal magazine, BaMachaneh. Money quote (my translation):

------start quote---------

It was hard to miss the "girl's revolution" in the army. Female soldiers in the elite Karakal unit, in the artillery, and other units are a common sight. Also the training units include a noticeable female contingent. The mini-revolution that the religious soldiers conducted is, by contrast, discernable only in the synagogues of the Infantry bases, whose benches grow more crowded by the moment.

The statistics point to surprising numbers, considering the relative size of the religious-national population in Israeli society. According to data from the Intake and Manpower Unit, the percent of religious soldiers in the Infantry's Patrol Division stands at 40 percent, in officer training courses half the trainees are kippah-wearing religious, and also in special units and command circles one finds a respectable representation of religious Zionist youth.

The seeds of this "revolution" were sown over 15 years ago, with the establishment of the first pre-induction "Mechina" program, in the Samarian settlement of Eli...

-----end quote--------

Read the full article here.

At Tue May 16, 06:37:00 PM GMT+3, Blogger Don Radlauer said...

Hi Ben-David -

You wrote: At least once a year the Israeli press runs articles reporting that 20-25% of draft-eligible secular Israelis dodge the draft.

I don't recall seeing any numbers like that. Of course there are secular Israelis who don't serve due to medical/psychological conditions, because they have criminal records, and so on; some subset of these are draft-dodgers, while others are legitimate. Estimates of draft-dodging need to be based on (A) differences between population groups, and (B) surveys of those who didn't serve, indicating whether they chose not to serve or were legitimately unable to do so. Your figure of 20-25% sounds to me like a number taken out of context or mislabeled; I'd like to see a source for it.

From what I've seen, the segment of the population in which draft-dodging is a "badge of honor" is tiny - maybe a percent or two of "secular" Israeli Jews, but nothing even close to the percentage you cite.

And in any case, your supposed "facts" support my argument rather than yours or Caroline Glick's. The more prevalent national-religious kids are in the pool of IDF recruits, the more prevalent they should be in combat units, officer-training courses, and everything else. Only if national-religious soldiers are more common in combat units (and so on) than in the overall recruit pool can we say that they are qualitatively superior to (or, if you like, better motivated than) secular IDF soldiers. If you were correct (which I believe you aren't) about the low number of secular participation in the IDF draft, that would mean that those secular Israelis who do serve are actually more likely to serve in combat units than the national-religious are!

The issue here isn't whether Glick's numbers are "plausible"; it's what Glick's numbers actually mean. She claims that they tell us that national-religious soldiers are better, man-for-man, than secular soldiers - since they supposedly serve in combat units in numbers much greater than their overall numbers would predict. I contend that the numbers show nothing of the sort: the much larger family size among national-religious Israelis (plus the fact that neither Israeli Arabs nor Haredim serve, in most cases) means that they make up a much larger portion of the pool of recruits than the 15% figure indicates. If national-religious kids make up 40% of the pool of recruits and national-religious kids make up only 30% of combat soldiers, what would that tell us?

At Fri Jul 21, 12:55:00 PM GMT+3, Anonymous Green Mountain Bocher said...

Yo Don,

This sounds like a clear cut case of Yarmulka envy. Or is it T'fillin envy?

Why not do T'shuvah and join them?

Either way, Glick's point is pretty obvious, and irrefutable. Without the national religious the IDF will be up shits creek without an effing paddle...


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