The IDF may soon change its policy of inviting non-Jewish soldiers to Nativ, a preparatory course for strengthening soldiers’ Israeli-Jewish-Zionist identity in preparation for a conversion, Makor Rishon reported on Friday, following a Supreme Court hearing of a petition recently filed against the existing invitation policy.
The petition was heard before a panel of three Supreme Court justices, Hanan Melcer—who was active in anti-Orthodox politics before his appointment to the high court; George Kara—a Christian Arab; and Yosef Elron—whose appointment was backed by Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon. During a hearing last week, Justice Melcer hinted that he would accept the position of the petitioners and recommended that the IDF representative change the policy.
Nativ, the National Center for Jewish Studies, Identity and Conversion, was established in 1999 by a decision of the Israeli government in cooperation with the Jewish Agency and with the support of Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Friends of the IDF in America. The organization serves as the operational arm of the Israel government in conversion and is the largest conversion institute in Israel. Nativ seeks to provide Israeli citizens who are not registered as Jews with the opportunity to enrich themselves with the knowledge, values, history and culture of the Jewish people, and, should they choose to convert, to assist them through the entire conversion process.
The petition against the IDF was filed last year by Stanislav Yurovsky, an IDF officer, through the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Yurovsky claimed that he was required to attend the conference, even though he declared that he was not interested in it.
According to Yurovsky, at the IDF recruitment office he had stated that he was not interested in converting, but his commanders nevertheless ordered him to attend the information conference introducing the Nativ course. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel claimed that at the time of the petition, many male and female soldiers approached them and complained about the violation of their privacy and their freedom of religion and conscience.
The current military rule today obligates all potentially Jewish soldiers to arrive at a preliminary information conference in which they are given explanations about the conversion process. But a military source familiar with the case told Makor Rishon that the IDF turns a blind eye to those who do not attend the conference and does not take any disciplinary action against them, so that there is no actual obligation to reach that information conference.
In an exchange with the justices, the attorney representing HR Chief Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz declared that the conversion is important to the army, which is invested in introducing the available process to those who could use it. He also reassured the court that once a soldier rejects the appeal to convert no further pressure is applied to them.
Justice Melcer warned the IDF that he tends to side with the petitioner in this case, and that he highly recommends either modifying or entirely canceling the program – either way, the IDF expects that the number of converts would be reduced significantly as a result.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Office said in response: “In light of the court’s recommendation, the participation in the information conference for the Nativ course is being re-examined. We must stress that participation in the course itself [as opposed to the introduction] is based on the individual’s wishes alone.”