By David Lazarus
The Knesset passed a bill this week designed to protect Arab Christians who enlist in the Israeli army. The law, which includes an extended prison sentence for anyone who tries to dissuade a Christian Arab from serving in the IDF, became necessary in the face of stiff opposition and violent attacks against the Christian soldiers.
Much of the hostility towards the Christian soldiers comes from Arab members of Israeli Knesset. Knesset member Aida Touma-Suliman of the Joint Arab List attacked the bill during the debate. “They want to drag the Christian Arab population into volunteering for the army that is occupying their people,” she said. “We will try to suggest to our young people a path that is total pride and honor, and not to be part of any machine (IDF) that oppresses our people.”
There are over 130,000 Christian Arab citizens in Israel, a potential source of significant recruitment for the IDF. However, Arab Christian enlistment has been severely limited due largely to the threats and incitement against young Christians wanting to join the army. That appears to be changing as unprecedented numbers of Christians are enlisting.
Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest who has advocated for a strong connection to Israel and IDF service for Christian Arabs, has also been threatened with violence, and even death. His 17-year-old son was attacked in Nazareth. The attacker was identified as an activist from the Arab Hadash party in Israel’s Knesset. Other Arab MKs have also condemned Naddaf, calling him “an agent of Zionism who seeks to divide Arabs.”
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