The Israeli military has stumbled on a novel way of busting draft dodgers: checking out their Facebook profiles. According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), 1,000 women were found falsely posing as orthodox Jews after photos and information on their profiles indicated otherwise.
According to Israeli law, orthodox women are exempt from a military draft that effects most individuals in the country. Ultra-orthodox male Jews and members of Israel's Arab minority are also exempt from military service.
During hearings in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, on Monday, Brig. Gen. Amir Rogovsky told parliamentarians about the IDF's embrace of social media to catch purported draft dodgers. Six separate offices are involved in the task of looking for women who falsely claim to be religious. These offices use a variety of data mining techniques to parse the Facebook profiles of potential suspects.
The methods used by the IDF were, frankly, rather ingenious. Fake party invitations for events taking place on Friday night were sent to individuals under investigation. Recipients who marked their replies as “Attending” or “Might Be Attending” were summoned into questioning as orthodox Jewish women are expected to observe the sabbath. Other women avoiding military service were found through more conventional methods; one woman was summoned after a photo on Facebook showed her holding a menu from a non-kosher restaurant.
It is unknown whether the IDF set up fake accounts to friend individuals under investigation or whether Israeli teenagers (like teenagers everywhere) are particularly poor at understanding Facebook privacy settings. However, the party invitations appear to suggest that fake accounts were created by IDF investigators.
Orthodox women who receive an exemption from military service in Israel are required to sign a declaration stating they maintain a “religious lifestyle,” do not travel on the sabbath and do not eat non-kosher foods.
All of the women found by the IDF's investigators to be falsely claiming the religious exemption were called up to military service. According to the Jerusalem Post, no legal charges were bought up against any of them. Thirty-five percent of Israeli women receive army exemptions under the orthodox waiver in addition to Israeli-Arab women.
The most interesting factor in all of this is that the news that the IDF is actively involved in data mining social media sites. According to official IDF magazine BaMahachne, an investigative division within Military Intelligence's Department of Information Security actively searches through Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social networking sites. The Associated Press also interestingly claims that the same division “reviews transcripts of hundreds of senior officers' conversations, to ensure they are not speaking to journalists without authorization.” No further information was given.
Israel's military has had an ambivalent relationship to Facebook in the past. This week pro-Palestinian Web activists placed a list online containing the personal details of 200 soldiers who fought in the 2009 Gaza conflict, using material partially obtained on the site. Back in August, former Israeli soldier Eden Abergil also caused an international incident when she posted pictures of her humiliating Palestinian detainees with humorous captions on Facebook as well.