Depending who you talk to, Israel’s military recruitment efforts aimed at young Arab Christians has either been a dismal failure or a step in the right direction, albeit a slow one. A prime example would be the two very different takes on the same story as reported by the left-of-center Middle East Monitor and the right-of-center Jewish and Israel News Service.
As cited by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there are slightly more than 160,000 Christians living in the Jewish State, comprising approximately 2% of the nation’s total population. The vast majority of Christians holding Israeli citizenship are ethnic Arabs, who mainly adhere to the ancient Catholic Rite of the Melkites, or one of the branches of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Unlike the Bedouin, Druze, and Circassian Muslims. who have been volunteering for decades for service in the Israeli armed forces (officially known as the Israeli Defence Forces), Arab Christians are exempt from mandatory service in the armed forces. However, the IDF is now making a concerted effort to gain volunteers from the Christian community.
The number of Christian volunteers reportedly tripled last year. Additionally, IDF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Amir Hai recently announced the military’s initiative to appeal to the religious minority:
We intend to appeal to the Christian population of conscription age and will send them call-up notices to volunteer for service.
Yet, on the other side of the coin, things aren’t exactly that rosy of a picture. An unnamed IDF Army officer reportedly told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, “In fact, we do not see long queues in front of recruitment offices.” It was also reported that one of the reasons for the slow but steady increase in the numbers of Christians in the ranks could be due to service in the IDF contributing to a “greater integration into Israeli society” and a vehicle for upward mobility.
This move comes on the heels of Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community conducting massive demonstrations against the Jerusalem central government for discussing the possibility of lifting their 65-year-old exemption from military service.