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After nearly two years of battling to convince the army he is a pacifist, Yonatan Ben Artzi, the finance minister's nephew by marriage, was finally recognized as such by an army court.

However, his conscientious objector status couldn't stop the court convicting him for refusing to obey the order to enlist as a conscript.

Jaffa military court judges proposed the issue be returned to the conscientious objection committee, which in the past refused to recognize Ben Artzi as a pacifist. The court also recommended that Ben Artzi, whose father is Sara Netanyahu's brother, appeal to the High Court of Justice although it had previously refused to hear the case, saying it was an army matter.

`Sincere in his statements'

The judges yesterday ruled the accused "sincere in his statement saying he holds a pacifist worldview."

A sentence will be handed down after the JAG command decides if the case will go back to the conscientious objection committee, which has been reconstituted with new members since it rejected Ben Artzi more than a year ago.

"After two years of character assassination and accusations of being an opportunist and a publicity-seeking egoist, it was great that of all people three military officers granted him the kashrut stamp of pacifism," one of Ben Artzi's friends said yesterday. His friends say they feel the army is being tough on him because of his family connection to Finance Minster Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ben-Artzi said the outcome was a partial victory. "They believe that I'm a pacifist," he said, but the military tribunal was not empowered to release him from service.

Ben-Artzi has served 16 months in prison for refusing to serve. His case is one of six currently before the military courts.