Knesset absorption panel discusses IDF conversions

Some 800 soldiers are converted annually in the framework of Netiv conversion program; 20% of all soldiers are olim.

IDF troops 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IDF troops 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
While the subject of IDF conversions remains divisive within the Knesset, the Netiv conversion program was the brightest light in an otherwise pessimistic meeting of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Public Diplomacy Committee Wednesday.
Some 800 soldiers are converted annually in the framework of Netiv, an IDF course that provides instruction to non- Jewish soldiers on topics of Zionism and Jewish identity. In the coming months, the army will convert its 5,000th soldier, although 17,000 non-Jewish soldiers have participated throughout the years. Two-thirds of the converts are women.
According to Lt.-Col. Carmit Naftali, head of the Immigration Branch of the IDF’s Education Corps, 20 percent of all soldiers are olim, with approximately 40,000 immigrants having served in the army’s ranks in 2010. Of these, 65% were from the former Soviet Union and 12.5% were from Ethiopia.
Approximately 2,100 of the immigrant troops are recognized by the IDF as lone soldiers, meaning those who have no immediately family in Israel and who receive housing assistance.
Naftali’s data on lone soldiers, however, were contested by Tzvi Ud, who advises lone soldiers and said he knew of approximately 3,000 such soldiers in the IDF, of whom 600 live on kibbutzim and the remainder in special hostels for soldiers or private apartments. Ud accused the IDF of failing to properly absorb immigrants who enlist with academic degrees, and of ignoring their willingness to sign on to long service periods in positions that are appropriate for their academic qualifications.
In discussing challenges facing immigrant soldiers, the committee heard alarming data regarding their court-martial rates.
Naftali said that 40% of Ethiopian immigrant soldiers are sentenced to a term in military prison at some point during their service, compared to 20% among the remaining immigrant soldiers. The high rate among Ethiopians comes despite the IDF’s Amir program, a seven-week course designed to assist them in reaching prestigious positions in the army.
Ud emphasized that lone soldiers sentenced to military prison lose their rights as lone soldiers for a two-month period following their release, and have them reinstated only after they receive special approval from a military review committee.
Committee chairman Danny Danon (Likud) emphasized that while the IDF assists immigrant soldiers through various programs, committee members hear very problematic stories, including of soldiers who cannot afford to buy food and who cannot find host families to stay with when on leave.