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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The army plans to begin allowing yordim - Israelis who live abroad - to study at Israeli universities without fear of being drafted, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Until now, an Israeli - even the child of an Israeli parent who was born abroad - was only allowed to reside here for 18 months before being forced to enlist in the IDF or leave the country.
The plan is one of a number of changes the IDF is making to its draft process in an effort to recruit expatriates. In another such change, the Defense Ministry has decided to open its Mahal overseas volunteer program to Israeli citizens living abroad.
Mahal, a 14-and-a-half month military service track, was established in 1948 when approximately 3,500 overseas volunteers came from 43 countries to defend the fledgling state. Since then, thousands more have joined the IDF under the program. In recent years the numbers have steadily increased. In 2005, 118 Jews from abroad joined Mahal; in 2006, 164; and the expectation is that 200 will enlist in 2007.
The changes to Mahal have been led by former public security minister Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avigdor Kahalani, who heads the Defense Ministry's Military-Social Bureau, and OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern.
There are an estimated 700,000 Israeli expatriates, most of them in the United States.
"The idea is to connect whomever we can with the State of Israel," Kahalani told the Post. "These teenagers don't necessarily want to serve three years, but they want a taste of Israel and this [Mahal] program can be suitable for them."
Another change to Mahal is that the volunteers no longer need to be Jewish as long as they are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.
Starting with the next Mahal induction, the IDF will offer volunteers a three-month Hebrew ulpan that will extend their service to 18 months.
The IDF is working with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to ensure that Israelis who join Mahal will not lose benefits if they decide to stay in Israel.
The change regarding university study will apply to Israelis who left the country before they were 10 or were born abroad.
"We would prefer that Israelis come to study in university here as opposed to colleges in the US," a high-ranking IDF Human Resources officer said. "The assumption is that once an Israeli is here, we have a better chance of getting him or her to enlist in the army."