Netanyahu Announces New Forum to Encourage Christian Arabs to Serve in Military

Forum will promote enlistment of young Christian Israelis in the army or in national service; previous attempt created a rift in the local community.

A joint forum of representing the government and Israel’s Christian community will be established to promote army service and national civil service among Christians and increase their involvement in the life of the state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday.

Netanyahu made the decision during a meeting with a Christian delegation comprising Father Gabriel Naddaf of the Greek Orthodox congregation of Nazareth, spiritual leader of a forum that supports army service by Christians, Naji Abeid, head of the Greek Orthodox council of the Nazareth suburb of Yafia, and Lt. (res.) Shadi Halul, head of the forum.

The body that Netanyahu wants to establish will work to apply the universal draft law to Christian Israelis, deal with the administrative and legal aspects of the matter and protect people who support army service by Christians and those who join the army from threats and violence. The past year has seen a significant increase in the number of Christians joining the Israel Defense Forces, from 35 to about 100. Five hundred young Christian Israelis are currently doing their national civilian service.

A meeting held about a year ago in Upper Nazareth to encourage young Christian Israelis to join the army or to do national civilian service sparked a local dispute. The mayor of Nazareth and Arab MKs criticized the meeting and denigrated Father Naddaf, who attended it. The Greek Orthodox council published a statement saying “Arab Christians will not lend a hand to actions whose purpose is to divide Arab Palestinian society in Israel.”

“The members of the Christian community should be enabled to serve in the IDF,” Netanyahu said in Monday’s meeting. “You are loyal citizens who want to protect the state and I salute you and support you. We will not stand for threats against you and we will act to enforce the law strictly against those who persecute you.”

Father Naddaf said: “Our goal is to protect the Holy Land and the State of Israel. We have broken the barrier of fear – the state deserves that we do our part in working for and protecting it. Those who oppose the involvement of the Christians in the institutions of the state are not following the path of Christianity.”

Amos Ben Gershon / Government Press Office
Moshe Gilad