The Israeli army enters the inquisition business

Israel/Palestine
on 17 Comments

Several Israeli Defense Forces conscripts have recently reported (Hebrew) that they have ordered to appear in a ceremony where they were told they need to undergo a giur (conversion to Judaism) and that the IDF would graciously provide them with this service. All of the conscripts are defined by the Israeli Interior Ministry as either Christians or lacking religious affiliation.

The IDF said in response that the purpose of the ceremony is to “strengthen the feeling of belonging of immigrant soldiers and their children to the State of Israel and the IDF.” The military admitted the conscripts are forced to participate: “the soldiers who answer to the criteria are invited to an orientation ceremony about the [giur] course, a ceremony to which the soldier must report, so as to have the ability to take a reasoned decision about his willingness to participate in the plan. A soldier who decides at the end of the ceremony to give up the course will not be invited to the next conference and the [conversion] process regarding him will be halted. Should a soldier decide to participate in the plan, but would [later] decide to disengage, he would have the right to do so at any time.”

While Israel promotes itself as a democracy, even a liberal one, it is essential to understand that this is simply not the case when it comes to personal and religious rights in Israel. While a citizen of a Western country is identified by his citizenship, the concept of citizenship is an afterthought in Israel. As far as the Israeli government and courts are concerned, there are no Israelis: attempts to be defined as such are stricken down time and again. The Interior Ministry uses the millet system, inherited from the Ottomans, as the basis of organizing society.

What is a millet? In Ottoman times, persons were organized not by their national group (nationalism was in its infancy in the Middle East at the time), but by the religious group they belonged to. They were defined as Sunni, Shi’ite, Orthodox Christians, or Jews (and various other groups); and each group had its religious leader and courts. A Jew would be answerable to the Jewish community and its courts for much of the aspects of his or her life.

The British left the system pretty much in place, as did Israel. If a Jew wants to marry in Israel, he has to do so through the rabbinical courts. A Muslim would have to go through a Sharia court (yes – Israel law implements Sharia), and a Christian through one of the various Christian courts. This has one major advantage, as far as Israel is concerned: as there’s no option of civil marriage, there’s no chance of miscegenation (“nisuei ta’arovet”, in Hebrew): no Jew can marry a non-Jew in Israel. And no Christian may marry a Muslim, etc. There is a loophole: Israel is beholden to some international treaties, so if you marry someone you can’t legally marry in Israel abroad, the government will – in most cases, gay couples need not apply – recognize your marriage.

Then came the great emigration wave from the former Soviet Union and put a monkey wrench in the system. The Jewishness of a large number of the emigrants is dubious. The Law of Return considers anyone who has a Jewish grandparent as a Jew for emigration purposes – but the rabbis do not. The numbers are uncertain, but hundreds of thousands of emigrants from the Soviet Union, and their children, are considered either as Christians or religiously unaffiliated.

These are the people the IDF is trying to convert. It does so out of belief – defined by former general Elazar Stern, now a member of Knesset for the Yesh Atid party – that “a Jewish soldier is inherently a better soldier.” Such a concept would cause generals from Julius Caesar through Genghis Khan and Heinz Guderian to raise an eyebrow, but is becoming increasingly common in the rapidly Jewified IDF.

It’s important to note that the IDF is interested in converting soldiers – but only if it sees them as “lost Jews.” It wouldn’t dare to demand a conversion from Israel’s native born Muslims, Druze or Christians – because it knows this will drive them into draft avoidance. It only tries to save the souls of those deemed “not Jewish enough” in the Jewish state. Unlike the Druze, Christians or even Muslim soldiers, those soldiers have no community to back them – as witnessed by the silence of the so-called “Russian” party of Avigdor Liberman, incidentally the Defense Minister.

It goes like this. The IDF receives from the Interior Ministry information about the religious affiliation of the conscripts, and assuming they “fit the criteria” – they have a Jewish parent or grandparent, yet they are considered to be either Christians or religiously unaffiliated – it makes them an offer they can hardly refuse. The soldier is ordered to show up in a ceremony, where he is told he is a second-class Jew but not to worry – the IDF is here to redeem him. His presence in this ceremony is obligatory and refusal to attend can lead to a military trial and imprisonment. His participation in the following course, i..e. the conversion process itself, is the default; he has to give express notice that he does not wish to participate. In technical terms, this is opt-out: you’re in unless you take specific action to abort.

What would happen to him if he refuses? The IDF says there are no consequences. Few soldiers would accept it at face value. They might suspect that their file has been quietly marked, and that this mark would be held against them should they want to go to officer school or upgrade their security clearance. Why didn’t you want to become a Jew? As someone whose commanders tried to pressure him into going to officer school (the writer is a proud private first class, ret.) I remember well the meaning of standing your ground against the army. Does anyone actually think soldiers arrive at the conversion course with anything resembling free will?

Try to imagine the scandal that would erupt if the French army would summon Jewish soldiers to a conversion to Catholicism course, informing them they may certainly refuse but that a good Frenchmen is a Catholic Frenchman, and that the course is intended to strengthen the bonds between the Jewish soldiers and the French army and Republic. Does that sound ludicrous to you? Well, that’s because this is the difference between a democratic country and a Jewish one.

Does it sound grotesque? That’s because our forefathers were once in a very similar movie, and found out the hard way it’s difficult to walk out. It seems someone in the IDF forgot what it means to be Jewish. (Which makes me bless once more that moment when an angry IDF Spokesman officer informed me that you are disrespectful of the army, the Jewish state and the Jewish religion (in March 2012))

And one final, tragic point: The soldiers who find themselves dragged into a conversion course may later find it was all in vain. The government will recognize their conversion, it promises. But the person who will decide whether you are a good enough Jew to marry in Israel will, in the end, be an ultra-Orthodox rabbi.

About Yossi Gurvitz

Yossi Gurvitz is a journalist and a blogger, and has covered the occupation extensively.

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17 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    June 5, 2017, 5:40 pm

    who knew! and what of all these silly rumors about jews making it hard to convert?

    • Mooser
      June 5, 2017, 7:48 pm

      I notice one aspect of conversion has not been mentioned. I wonder how that is handled. Full immersion, or just a sprinkle?

      • Mooser
        June 6, 2017, 11:38 am

        Well, the British, at one time, believed that having a mustache improved marksmanship, but later required soldiers to be clean shaven.

        I can’t be the only one wondering about this. Okay. maybe I can.

      • echinococcus
        June 6, 2017, 2:12 pm

        Mooser,

        I’m sure you intended to write “with or without anesthesia and sterilization?”

      • Mooser
        June 6, 2017, 5:14 pm

        “I’m sure you intended to write “with or without anesthesia and sterilization?”

        Hadn’t gotten nearly that far yet. For all I know, it may be optional under those circumstances.

      • JLewisDickerson
        June 11, 2017, 10:44 pm

        RE: “I notice one aspect of conversion has not been mentioned. I wonder how that is handled. Full immersion, or just a sprinkle?” ~ Mooser

        MY COMMENT: This is not a biggie (really, it isn’t, y’all), but being a lapsed Protestant of the “Methodist persuasion”, and the great-great-grandson of a Methodist clergyman, I am fairly certain that Methodists nowadays (especially in the higher-income urban areas) prefer the ‘spritz’ over the ‘sprinkle’. Simply put, it sounds a lot more sophisticated!

  2. Citizen
    June 6, 2017, 12:43 am

    And US politicians carry on as usual, telling the US public Israel and the US share the same values. Nobody influential ever questions this BS in US cable TV news/infotainment.

  3. JosephA
    June 6, 2017, 8:57 am

    Hi Yossi,

    Thanks for sharing these disturbing facts about the “only democracy in the Middle East”. Sounds more like demoCRAZY!

  4. Vera Gottlieb
    June 6, 2017, 10:15 am

    A better soldier who kills better? Didn’t the Nazis have something similar?

    • inbound39
      June 7, 2017, 2:38 am

      If you look at Israeli Army tactics they do closely resemble the WW2 German tactics of the Wehrmacht. They are extremely indoctrinated and use blitzkrieg style tactics and constant attacks into Occupied Territory returning with a dozen or so prisoners every time. Usually in the middle of the night. They strip the Occupied of homes and goods and chattels and cut off services. And hold prisoners without charge.

  5. Maghlawatan
    June 6, 2017, 1:53 pm

    The problem with religious soldiers is fascist religious in times of war. Holy war is “not good for the Jews” yet it happens every time Israel goes turkey shooting in Gaza. It is so easy to find a military rabbi who will declare that Palestinians are Amalek or that it is OK to rape enemy women. Over half of Israeli army officers now are religious. They aren’t even vaguely religious BTW. They are brainwashed.

  6. Maghlawatan
    June 6, 2017, 2:00 pm

    The IDF used to be secular. Secular armies murder and carry out human rights abuses but within a relatively rational framework. Religious armies are for the birds.
    Israel needs a secular army. Because it is turning into a madhouse.

  7. Marnie
    June 7, 2017, 3:01 am

    “Does anyone actually think soldiers arrive at the conversion course with anything resembling free will? ”

    Of course not. Am curious if the non-jew conscripts will be required to have a shave, haircut and just a little off the tip clip. Now the zionists won’t have to worry about saying how great israel is for having non-jewish soldiers in their ranks – look ma! Presto changeo – they’re all jews now (at least during their ‘service’). tf.

    And then there’s this.
    Trump Effect Inspires Radical Christians in Military – Newsweek
    http://www.newsweek.com/christian-fundamentalists-us-armed-forces-national-security-thre...

    “Donald Trump’s election has led to such a steep rise in fundamentalist Christian evangelizing and religious bigotry in the U.S. armed forces that the matter is reaching the level of a “national security threat,” according to information shared exclusively with Newsweek by an organization that represents and advocates for secular and minority religious views in the military.

    The number of complaints from servicemen and -women in the Army, Air Force, Marines and other service branches to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has doubled in number since November 2016, according to lawyer Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, a former Air Force officer who founded the organization.

    Many of the recent charges are coming from members of minority religions, including Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims, and from atheists. Among the complaints: military family and marital therapy programs are being infused with Protestant Christianity, which would violate the U.S. Constitution; open anti-Semitism; anti-LGBT statements, posters, symbols and bullying; openly anti-Muslim teachers and Islamophobic attacks; a rise in on-base evangelizing; and increased pressure on recruits or lower-level personnel and service members to convert to fundamentalist Christianity.

    “With the advent of Trump as the commander in chief of our armed forces, MRFF has experienced a massive influx of new military and civilian personnel complaints of religion-based prejudice and bigotry, most of them coming from non-fundamentalist Christians being persecuted by their military superiors for not being ‘Christian enough,’” Weinstein tells Newsweek.

    He says noncommissioned officers at one Air Force base reported that their superiors told them Trump would make it USAF policy that in order for “disbelieving Jews” to be allowed into the USAF or deemed fit for promotions, they would have to show via objectively established behavior that they were at least honestly “considering the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    At another base, the wife of a combat-decorated Muslim U.S. Naval officer, who was wearing a Muslim headscarf, was surrounded in the commissary and spit upon and cursed as not being a “true American and being a spy and a terrorist.” She was with her children at the time.”

    Holy shit.

    • CigarGod
      June 7, 2017, 8:45 am

      Other animals that spit…include camels, cobra’s, spittle beetles and walrus’.

  8. JLewisDickerson
    June 12, 2017, 1:36 am

    RE: “Several Israeli Defense Forces conscripts have recently reported (Hebrew) that they have ordered to appear in a ceremony where they were told they need to undergo a giur (conversion to Judaism) and that the IDF would graciously provide them with this service. All of the conscripts are defined by the Israeli Interior Ministry as either Christians or lacking religious affiliation.” ~ Gurvitz

    MY COMMENT: I recall reading some articles in the past about the role of the IDF’s Rabbis in firing up the troops to “mow the grass/lawn” in Gaza (especially beginning with Cast Lead in 2009). According to some of the more secular Israeli soldiers, the effect of the Rabbis on the more religious soldiers was considerable, and this was at least partially responsible for the savage brutality unleashed by the “World’s Most Moral Army” on the people of Gaza. If this was indeed the case, it is easy to see why it might be benefical to convert non-Jewish members of the IDF to Judaism (and the more militant the form of Judiasm converted to, the better) and turn any future military campaigns into “Holy Wars” to the extent possible so that “God’s Law” will implicitly trump “silly notions” like “the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law” that are clearly the work of SATAN ! ! !

    SEE: “‘You are fighting a religious war against gentiles’: What rabbis told Israeli soldiers in Gaza war”, By Mail Foreign Service, The Daily Mail, 3/20/09

    [EXCERPTS] Rabbis in the Israeli army told battlefield troops in January’s Gaza offensive that they were fighting a ‘religious war’ against gentiles, it has been revealed.

    An army commander wrote of the shocking command in an Israeli newspaper today – one day after it emerged that Israeli soldiers were told they could kill innocent civilians during the war.

    ‘Their message was very clear: we are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land,’ the commander said.

    The account by Ram, a pseudonym to shield the soldier’s identity, was published by the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper in the second day of revelations that have rocked the Israeli military.

    They were leaked from a February 13 meeting of armed forces members to share their Gaza experiences.

    Some veterans, alumni of an Israel Defence Force (IDF) military academy, told of the killing of civilians and their impression that deep contempt for Palestinians pervaded the ranks of the Israeli forces.

    The institution’s director, Danny Zamir, confirmed that Thursday’s published accounts were authentic.

    In longer excerpts in its Friday ‘Week’s End’ edition, the daily quoted ‘Ram’ as saying his impression of the 22-day operation was ‘the feeling of an almost religious mission’. . .

    . . . the rabbinate’s message imparted to many soldiers the sense that “this operation was a religious war”.

    A squad commander from Ram’s Givat Brigade, named as Aviv, recounted his misgivings about orders to break down doors with armoured vehicles and shoot anyone inside, floor by floor.

    In the event, the order was amended to include ‘operating megaphones’ so advancing troops could tell people they had five minutes to get out or be killed.

    Aviv said ‘there was a very annoying moment’ when he briefed his men and one challenged that order, saying: ‘Yeah? Anyone who is in there is a terrorist, that’s a known fact. . .

    ‘And then his buddies join in: “We need to murder any person who’s in there, yeah, any person who’s in Gaza is a terrorist’ and all the other things that they stuff our heads with, in the media,’ Aviv said. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1163508/You-fighting-religious-war-gentiles-What-rabbis-told-Israeli-soldiers-Gaza-war.html

  9. JLewisDickerson
    June 12, 2017, 3:08 am

    P.S. ALSO SEE: “IDF rabbinate publication during Gaza war: We will show no mercy on the cruel”, By Amos Harel, Haaretz, 1/26/09

    [EXCERPTS] During the fighting in the Gaza Strip, the religious media – and on two occasions, the Israel Defense Forces weekly journal Bamahane – were full of praise for the army rabbinate. The substantial role of religious officers and soldiers in the front-line units of the IDF was, for the first time, supported also by the significant presence of rabbis there.

    The chief army rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Rontzki, joined the troops in the field on a number of occasions, as did rabbis under his command.

    Officers and soldiers reported that they felt “spiritually elevated” and “morally empowered” by conversations with rabbis who gave them encouragement before the confrontation with the Palestinians.

    But what exactly was the content of these conversations and of the plethora of written material disseminated by the IDF rabbinate during the war? A reservist battalion rabbi told the religious newspaper B’Sheva last week that Rontzki explained to his staff that their role was not “to distribute wine and challah for Shabbat to the troops,” but “to fill them with yiddishkeit and a fighting spirit.”

    An overview of some of the army rabbinate’s publications made available during the fighting reflects the tone of nationalist propaganda that steps blatantly into politics, sounds racist and can be interpreted as a call to challenge international law when it comes to dealing with enemy civilians.

    Haaretz has received some of the publications through Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers who collect evidence of unacceptable behavior in the army vis-a-vis Palestinians. Other material was provided by officers and men who received it during Operation Cast Lead.

    Following are quotations from this material:

    [There is] a biblical ban on surrendering a single millimeter of it [the Land of Israel] to gentiles, though all sorts of impure distortions and foolishness of autonomy, enclaves and other national weaknesses. We will not abandon it to the hands of another nation, not a finger, not a nail of it.” This is an excerpt from a publication entitled “Daily Torah studies for the soldier and the commander in Operation Cast Lead,” issued by the IDF rabbinate. The text is from “Books of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner,” who heads the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Muslim quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem.

    The following questions are posed in one publication: “Is it possible to compare today’s Palestinians to the Philistines of the past? And if so, is it possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David?” Rabbi Aviner is again quoted as saying: “A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land … They invaded the Land of Israel, a land that did not belong to them and claimed political ownership over our country … Today the problem is the same. The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, when in reality there was never a Palestinian or Arab state within the borders of our country. Moreover, most of them are new and came here close to the time of the War of Independence.”

    The IDF rabbinate, also quoting Rabbi Aviner, describes the appropriate code of conduct in the field: “When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers. ‘A la guerre comme a la guerre.'”

    . . . In addition to the official publications, extreme right-wing groups managed to bring pamphlets with racist messages into IDF bases. One such flyer is attributed to “the pupils of Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg” – the former rabbi at Joseph’s Tomb and author of the article “Baruch the Man,” which praises Baruch Goldstein, who massacred unarmed Palestinians in Hebron. It calls on “soldiers of Israel to spare your lives and the lives of your friends and not to show concern for a population that surrounds us and harms us. We call on you … to function according to the law ‘kill the one who comes to kill you.’ As for the population, it is not innocent … We call on you to ignore any strange doctrines and orders that confuse the logical way of fighting the enemy.” . . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/idf-rabbinate-publication-during-gaza-war-we-will-show-no-mercy-on-the-cruel-1.268849

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