Israel Passes Law Setting Prison Terms for Dissuading Christian Arabs From IDF Service

The bill is officially aimed at preventing pressure on any soldier who volunteers to serve in the IDF, but Likud MK Yoav Kish clarified that he had initiated the bill to confront the pressures brought to bear on Christian Arabs who serve.

In this photograph made on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, an Israeli soldier wears crucifixes during an Israeli Christians recruitment forum in Nazareth.
Dan Balilty, AP

The Knesset on Tuesday passed into law a bill setting a prison term for anyone persuading Christian Arabs who serve in the Israel Defense Forces to desert, or anyone who helps them desert. The vote was 39-9 with one abstention.

The bill is officially aimed at preventing pressure on any soldier who volunteers to serve in the IDF, but its sponsor, MK Yoav Kish (Likud), clarified that he had initiated the bill to confront the pressures brought to bear on Christian Arabs who serve.

MK Aida Touma-Suliman of the Joint Arab List attacked the bill during the debate.

“They want to drag the Christian Arab population into volunteering for the army that is occupying their people,” she said, adding, “Don’t deceive yourselves, no one is threatening those who volunteer; we have a political argument and serious criticism and we will continue to convey it. We will try to suggest to our young people a path that is total pride and honor, and not to be part of any machine that oppresses our people.”

Her faction colleague, MK Talab Abu Arar, told the plenum, “I, as a Bedouin Arab, call on all Bedouin Arab soldiers to shuck their uniforms and the policy of home demolitions, land confiscations, and the ban on family reunification, and to return to the struggle against racist policies against Arabs in general and against Bedouin in the Negev in particular.”

The penal code already sets a prison term of three to 15 years for a person who incites or seeks to persuade a soldier doing compulsory service to desert the army, as well as to anyone giving shelter to such a deserter. What the new law does is equalize the punishment for those aiding the desertion of a volunteer to those helping a conscript go AWOL.

The debate on the bill in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee last week was held without the presence of the Arab MKs; even though there had been an agreement by which controversial bills would not be debated during the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, the committee went ahead and discussed the bill anyway, approving it for its final votes.

Arab MKs said last week that the law would infringe on freedom of expression and be used to suppress the debate in Arab society on whether Christians should join the military.