Court: Israel Can Withhold Passport From IDF Draft-dodger

Israeli man raised in the U.S. refused request to delay military induction, even after beginning college.

The interior minister may refuse to extend the passport of an Israeli who is classified as an evader of military service, according to a decision handed down last week by Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg.

In his decision Sohlberg wrote that "the interior minister's policy of linking the right to obtain a passport to the fulfillment of military duty as mandated by law is both logical and reasonable," on the grounds that "individual existence is not separate from public [life]; rather, they are intertwined. This relationship is one of give-and-take, which we cannot do without."

Sohlberg cited the late American President John F. Kennedy's famous exhortation: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." And the judge wrote that "the discourse about rights and the constant striving to optimize them sometimes overshadows the fact that no society can be established without individuals carrying out their responsibilities to public institutions."

The decision was handed down in a suit served by Yaniv David Harel, 24, an Israeli currently studying medicine in the United States. Harel was born in Be'er Sheva and left Israel at age 12 with his parents, returning at 14 and remaining until he was 17, when he again left with his parents. His induction into the military was postponed at his request so he could complete high school. But when he requested a second delay in 2004, it was rejected.

Harel then began his pre-med studies in the U.S. In August 2007 he applied to the interior ministry for an extension to his passport, and in response was told to report to an army induction center. There he was told that he was considered a "military service evader," and advised to report immediately for army service.

In 2008 Harel approached the army once again, suggesting that he be tried in a disciplinary court, and asking to further postpone service until he finishes his medical studies. He offered to volunteer as a doctor in the medical corps and serve in the standing army, the same way some conscripts are sent to university by the army and then serve a longer time than regular inductees. The army answered that he might return to Israel without being arrested (for draft dodging), but rejected his request to delay service further.

Harel decided to finish medical school at Columbia University in New York. When his Israeli passport expired, he could not extend his American student visa. He approached the IDF and the interior ministry once again in an attempt to have his passport extended to the end of his studies, but was rejected. He then petitioned the District Court in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem district attorney's office held that the interior minister was indeed invested with the authority to make this decision, and Harel's petition was "particularly outrageous, unprecedented and arrogant." They further claimed that "the plaintiff has no attachment to this country, he did not serve in the army and there is no justification for giving him a passport after he and his family left during the second intifada, while his friends spent their best years serving in the IDF."

The district attorney's office based its claims on a 1964 government decision which determined that an Israel citizen who does not return to Israel for military service is not entitled to passport services, according to the laws governing the granting of passports. Judge Sohlberg accepted these claims.

Attorney Dan Yakir of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel thinks otherwise. "I believe it is extremely grave to create a connection between fulfilling obligations and receiving rights," he said. "A passport is a necessary condition for freedom of movement, which is a basic right. Respect for the individual, and his freedom and human rights, do not depend on individuals fulfilling duties. If an individual fails to fulfill an obligation, the relevant criminal or civil sanction should be applied."

Harel's attorney, Shlomo Rehavi, is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.