Service in Israeli Armed Forces

Do only Jews serve in the various branches of the Israeli Armed Forces, or are there any non-Jews and/or people of colour who also currently serve?

On the other hand, are there any Jews who serve in any of the various branches of the armed forces of any of the Arab nations?

If an American served in the armed forces of Israel or any of the Arab nations, would he or she lose their American citizenship?

I bump and watch.

I hope someone answers this too, but if not, let’s use common sense:

There are Jews of every race. Therefore, the Israeli army would never bar someone from service because he is “colored.” If they did this, the anti-Israel people would be screaming from the rafters about it.

How many Jews do you think are living in the various Arab nations of the middle east? I recall hearing somewhere that Iraq has a population of maybe 80 Jews, and that’s probably an overcount. Of that tiny amount of Jews I assume live scattered throughout the Arab world, how many do you think would feel enough allegiance to their nation to serve in the armed forces for it?

I dunno, maybe some guys hate their Mother or ex girl friend who still lives in Tel Aviv.

I’ve heard a UL about a US soldier wearing an iron cross won in 1938; you can wear medals won in another army “which was not at war with the US at the time.”

Alessan or some of the other Israeli residents that have served would be the best on-board sources, but my understanding is that Jews, the Druze ( a smallish community, somewhat larger in Lebanon ), and the Circassians ( an even tinier ethnic group in Israel, somewhat larger in Jordan ) are all subject to mandatory draft. Christian and Muslim Arabs are exempt from the draft, but may volunteer and traditionally some among the Bedouin communities in particular have consistently done so in small numbers, though apparently that has been on the decline.

As to what effect fighting under the Israeli flag might have on U.S. citizenship, I have no idea, but I’m sure some other posters do.

  • Tamerlane

The State Department seems to say that you can lose your citizenship if you serve in the army of a nation in armed conflict with the US, or you serve as an officer of a foreign army.

So you can be a noncom or lower in an army whose country is not at war with the USA?

American-Israeli dual citizens can and do serve in the Israeli army without losing their American citizens. I have met many such people. I am pretty sure at least a couple of the Israeli Dopers are US citizens as well and have served in the US army.

Incidentally, I also knew a Canadian-Israeli who planned to serve in the Israeli army. I don’t know for certain, but he mentioned it with enough nonchalance that I assume his Canadian citizenship wouldn’t be affected.

The only non-Jews who haven’t already been mentioned who could possibly serve in the Israeli army are Israel’s small population of Vietnamese. In 1977, Israel accepted a number of Vietnamese refugees. I have never met any, but I understand they are quite well integrated into Israeli society, so I wouldn’t surprised to hear that there are a few Vietnamese-Israelis in the army. I googled a bit, but the best on this I could find was this half-article (you have to subscribe to read the entire thing).

Yep, and I’ll poke around for some case law tomorrow if I can. I seem to remember some really messy situations involving dual citizenship, in which the other country of citizenship had mandatory military service (not Israel). But it’s been a while.

Being a noncom is out, too. From Captain Amazing’s link (U.S. State Department):

In matters of loss of U.S. citizenship, the sticky part is usually judging whether the expatriating act was performed “voluntarily and with the intent of losing U.S. citizenship.” Intent is a very tricky thing to determine, and the more recent case law tends to be very conservative in deciding that someone’s intent was to renounce U.S. citizenship.

This sounds more authoritative than it is. I should have said “The only non-Jews that I can think of who haven’t already been mentioned who could possibly serve in the Israeli army are Israel’s small population of Vietnamese.” I honestly don’t know if any of these Vietnamese Israelis have or could serve in the army, but it seems possible to me.

There are and have been thousands of non-Jews in the IDF; my boss is one of them, a former US Special Forces paratrooper who volunteered to train paratroopers. There are large numbers of Christian millenialists and such (my boss is not one of them) who literally believe that Israel needs to be restored for Christ to return, etc. Israel has had a sort of mini French-style Foreign Legion at times, largely Americans Canadians and Europeans.

There are not ‘tiny’ numbers of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel! The Tunisian island of Djerba is predominantly Jewish, Tunis itself has a community and there are a decent number of Jews left in Damascus. There are also Jewish communities in Iran, and there were quite large numbers of them in Yemen (signer Ofra Haza was one) although I believe most have relocated to Israel. I believe the very low figure cited fr Iraqi Jews may have been for Kabul…?

Over most of the history that Islam has existed, Jews and Muslims have managed to coexist generally better than Christians with either one. Given the primacy of the Law (whether talmuldic or the hadith) of what both recognize as (in essence) the same Creator this should hardly be surprising.

With the intifadas & realted violence and IDF crackdowns in the Territories cutting cheap Palestinian labor access way down, Israel is turning to the same sort of disgusting Asian labor importation one sees in the Gulf Arab states. The citizenship status of those workers is shaky at best and I rather doubt they’re required to serve in the IDF. I imagine a lot of them couldn’t get permits for opening a lemonade stand.

We also seem to be forgeting Israel’s proxy army in southern Lebanon, the Christian/mercenary/gang-style SLA, who have no love lost with Hezbollah nor the PLO.




Well, everything has pretty much been covered, so just let me recap: Druze are drafted, Beduin can volunteer, other ethnic groups are on a case to case basis. There are special Druze and Beduin units - The 299th “Scimitar” Battalion for the Druze, or the Desert Patrol unit for the Beduin - but soldiers of these ethnic groups are not required to serve in them, and are well integrated into the rest of the army.

Another large non-Jewish group in the military is Russian. When Israel accepted about a million Jewish immigrants after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it also awarded citizenship to their non-Jewish relatives and descendants. Estimates vary, but we can assume there are about 100,000 non-Jewish Russians in the country. They are treated, as far as the army is concerned, just like Israeli Jews.

I’ve never encounterd or even heard of any American or European Christians serving in the IDF. There may be a few civilian volunteers in support roles here and there (my wife tells me she once had this Swedish guy hanging around her base for unexplained reasons) but the last time we had anything like a “Foreign Legion” was 1948.

I seriously doubt any Jews serve in Arab armies.

As for U.S. citizenship, well, they haven’t come by to take away mine, yet.

Crandolph - the SLA was disbanded after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. As for imported workers, the vast majority of them work in construction, light industry or as farm hands. In that they’re closer to the status of Mexican migrant workers in the western U.S. There are indeed not Israeli citizens and are usually in the country on limited work visas.

Having dual nationality does not bar you from military service in most cases. In fact, the British passport states in note no. 6:

My Dad who held dual GB/Israeli nationality at the time, served in the Israeli army reserves in the seventies. Many of our friends there were immigrants from other countries who retained their original nationalities, including US, and served in the Israeli army once they became Israeli citizens.

As has already been stated, Druze and other non-Jewish minorities serve in the army, as do Jews of Ethiopian origin. I can’t think of any examples of Christians but I remember there was a small community of Finns who were not Jewish but had settled in Israel in support of the State. They may well have included military service in their support, but I think they would have had to become Israeli citizens to qualify. IIANM.

I’d also like to add that virtually all of the IDF’s elite Trackers Corps is made up of either Beduins or Druze, due to the fact that there are very few Jewish shepherds. From experience, I can tell you that those guys do truly amazing work.

There is a long history of Christians in the Israeli military, in fact there was (is?) a specific service for non-Israeli citizens called the MACHAL (Hebrew acronym of ‘Mitnadvei Chutz-La’Arets’; foreign volunteers). According to the MACHAL history I’ve read, 70% of pilots in what later became the air force equivalent in the IDF were MACHAL in 1948, and this meant that business transpired in English instead of Hebrew out of necessity. Seems an inordinately high amount of naval officers at the time were also non-Jews. As these were specialized tasks of experienced WWII officers brought to a country moving from several political and ethnic militias to a professional military, this is neither surprising nor should it be embarrassing. The US probably wouldn’t have won our revolution without help from French and Prussian officers.

Some MACHAL were Jews but many, perhaps a majority (?) in the early days of Israel were not. I don’t mean to imply that all 70% of MACHAL pilots were non-Jews, but the % of non-Jews would have been high. Some 119 MACHAL died in the '48 war.

My boss was an Israeli military volunteer in '67, '73 and circa '91. He also served as a trainer for paratroopers in some intervening years. He is an American of Irish Catholic stock (he made up a shamrock/Star of David insignia which is apparently still used in modified form as a unit insignia of some sort, with the origin lost to most of the people wearing it). He tells me there were thousands of non-Jewish volunteers, especially discharged Vietnam vets during & after that war. He told me the Armegeddon-oriented Christians are discouraged from joining & they try to sniff them out but that some semi-(or completely) conceal their intentions & end up in the service. Apparently this creeped him out as these people are LOOKING FORWARD to a final battle and were unnaturally calm when Iraqi SCUDs were incoming…

You can also volunteer as a technically-not-doing-military-work military base grunt via Sar-El, which also runs a program for non-Israeli Jews (that is, Jews w/o formal citizenship) to join the IDF proper. According to my boss if you have valuable military experience & go via Sar-El, you can well end up for all intents and purposes in the Israeli military if you wish. Sar-El is the volunteer-in-Israel group run by the World Zionist Organization, which never changed its name from generations ago and sounds quite anachronistic (if not totally made up by anti-Semites!). It’s easy to find this all on the web.

Add in those Russian immigrants and there’s every reason to believe there are thousands of non-Jews currently serving in combat or combat training roles in the Israeli military, with maybe hundreds more in support roles such as medics via Sar-El. And I read the OP as asking about non-Jews now and historically, so I think the SLA merits mention (I also don’t believe those guys suddenly incorporated themselves into Lebanese society with their bitter enemies; I should think ties to Israel remain).

I would not compare Mexican labor in the US to the importation of Ghanians, Thais, Koreans, Turks, etc. to work (for the minimum wage of about $2/hr) as replacement Palestinians in Israel. On the plus side, the Israeli system, which is much closer to the way Gulf Arab States work things (high irony and I should think embarrassment) is at least ‘honest.’ Ours is not. These are guest workers invited in for specific jobs for specific permits. Looking at the geography, one strains to see how a Thai gets into Israel to work construction ILlegally. Almost all of this is legal, and in fact ‘necessary’ to the Israeli economy if you accept the effective lockout of a lot of former Palestinian labor. These are people brought into a country who have no cultural tie to the area (for that very reason), have no plans or right to stay beyong their immediate usefulness, and are desperate to get money home to dependents. It still lends itself to horrible abuse, as I witnessed first hand when I worked in Qatar, which issues much the same sort of labor permits. (No job? Sponsor doesn’t like your face? Bye-bye.)

We have nothing to be proud of with our Mexican labor, but we’re talking about people crossing a porous border & in many cases looking to settle and restart life here (while also remitting funds home)… often in territory with Spanish place names that used to be part of their country, with established Latino populations. And, hey, in many cases we let them. Have a child here, in fact, and your tot’s an automatic citizen (not a big flagwaver/patriot type but I consider that the Best Law Ever!). No Qs about your parents’ relgion or ethnicity. Those are huge differences IMHO.

Finally on that point, there are Mexicans working in agriculture (and restaurants) in nearly every state now, it’s not just the West any longer. Pennsylvania’s a huge mushroom grower, and Kennett Square (a town) has huge numbers of migrant Mexican workers, just as one example.

Finally, nations such as Tunisia, Morrocco, Yemen, Syria (none of which really have huge populations) with Jewish populations in the thousands (or tens of thousands until emigration mainly to Israel) also have compulsory military service for male youth. Until someone posts a cite stating laws to the contrary (i.e. barring Jews from national service), we have to proceed from the assumption that hundreds or thousands of Arabic Jews (Jewish Arabs?) have served and are serving in their nations’ armies. When I was in Tunisia it seemed the Jews there were pretty well intigrated into the society as a whole, and I don’t think there’s exactly a big draft dodging movement there coming from any quarter.

Considering how touchy some of these subjects are I think we all get a big pat on the back for staying quite civil… :wink:

  • Crandolph

Bumping the thread for this CNN article on Americans who serve in the IDF (an estimated 750 today):

IIRC from the news when I was there, there is also a long-running dispute over a segment of the Jewish population who have a fundamental disagreement with the existence of the state of Israel. The Haredim(?) are fairly fundamentalist, orthodox Jews who believe it is important to simply study the scriptures while the state provides for their needs. I’m sure someone with more detail can explain their beliefs, but they seem to think a secular Jewish state (as opposed to church hierarchy?) has no legitimate authority so they should be exempt from military service. Due to Israel’s fragmented rep-by-pop Knesset, they have leveraged their small but vocal political voice to carve out an exemption from military service.

As I understood the issue, this was supposed to be for those spending their time in devout studies, ie. advanced rabbinical school, but apparently was applied to entire segments of the population who spend their adult life studying while on welfare. there was mention that a recent supreme court decision there removed that exemption and ordered th government to change the rules.

IIRC along with that decision came the concurrent decision that exemption from the draft for non-Jews was also unconstitutional, but that alternative community services were acceptable. Last I heard, the government was struggling with redefining the rules.

Not only are there are non-Jews in the Army (including Arabs, Christians, Muslims, and Druse), but several of them serve in command positions. There are Ethiopian Jews here, so there are Jews of color in the IDF as well. There are also women in combat positions.

That one I don’t know.

American citizens do not lose citizenship by serving in the IDF. However, I have heard that American citizens were asked to renounce their U.S. citizenship before serving in certain very specific units in the IDF. I do not have a cite handy.

Note: I am an Israeli citizen and resident and a U.S. citizen; one daughter completed her IDF service last year, and another daughter is in basic training at the current time.