The largest number of foreign volunteers to the IDF have come, for the second year in a row, from France, the Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday. French citizens will comprise 45 percent of the total foreign volunteers to the IDF in 2016, compared to 29% from the US and 5% from the UK. In total, there will be close to 500 volunteers from 21 countries beginning service in the IDF this year, most of whom will formally enlist in August.Approximately 80% of them will serve in combat infantry units for at least 18 months, although many extend their service beyond this time. Before enlistment, volunteers and new immigrants joining the IDF will take a preparatory course run by the Defense Ministry’s Security and Society Department to prepare them physically and mentally for military enlistment. The course is a relatively new program and includes hikes, physical training, meetings with IDF officers, excursions around the country, visits to Israel heritage sites and museum tours. The course participants also meet with Israelis from across the societal spectrum, improve their Hebrew and are generally prepared for life as a soldier, as well as learning about their various rights as lone soldiers without family in the country. Separately, two young immigrants have been staging a two-man protest outside the IDF headquarters at the Kiriyiah in Tel Aviv and, on Wednesday, in the Knesset, in an effort to enlist to the IDF.
Kaplan (right) and Rodriguez (left) with Ben-Dahan (Courtesy) Navon Kaplan, who immigrated to Israel from Texas in 2011, began IDF service more than a year and a half ago, and served in the Iron Dome. He was however required to end his service after he put on too much weight. Kaplan subsequently lost 45kg and is now fit again and wishes to complete his military service, but the the IDF enlistment department says he is now too old to serve, even though his Iron Dome unit has insisted they want to take him back. “I want to serve in the IDF, to defend the state and lead soldiers,” said Kaplan, who added that he would prefer to join his comrades still serving in the Iron Dome, but is willing to consider other possibilities as well. Felipe Rodriquez, immigrated to Israel a year ago from Sydney, Australia after his entire family converted to Judaism, but has also faced difficulties in enlisting due to his age. Rodruigez, who is athletic and fit, is still campaigning to enlist, and said that he would prefer to serve in the Givati or Golani brigades, but is also willing to be flexible. The two men met recently with Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan who said that he would help them enlist, and also visited the Knesset on Wednesday to further their lobbying efforts. “I am full of pride to see you, your motivation, and your great dedication to the Jewish people,” Ben-Dahan told them. “You are an example to Jews around the world and for youth in the State of Israel, and I hope I will succeed you in realizing your dreams to serve in the IDF.” Ben-Dahan is also leading efforts to amend the law determining various rights for soldiers who have completed their IDF service, originally passed in 1994. At present, demobilized soldiers receive a financial deposit from the state of up to NIS 25,000 depending on the length and nature of their military service, to use for various different purposes, including education, paying for a wedding or a home, buying a car, and other possibilities. This money must be used in the first seven years after finishing IDF service, otherwise it reverts to a state fund for disadvantaged soldiers. In the Knesset’s winter session, Ben-Dahan will introduce legislation to increase the amount of time a soldier has to make use of this money, as well as to increase the range of different purposes for which it can be used.