Tell Israel to Honor the Rights of Conscience

April 28, 2009

On April 26, seven Israelis were arrested for questioning under suspicion of violating Israeli law by inciting evasion of conscription into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The police suspect them of operating two websites, New Profile and Target 21, to which people have posted articles encouraging refusal of conscription into the IDF.

The associates were also involved in counseling conscientious objectors on information about Israeli law and guidance on how to assert their convictions.

The superintendent of the Yarkon District Police which executed the arrest says it was a result of an investigation into the operators of the two websites.

They were released on bail Sunday and were instructed not to have contact with one another for at least 30 days. As of yet, they have not been charged with any violation of Israeli law.

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obliges all nation-states to recognize the right to conscientious objection. The only provisions in Israeli law that executes this international standard are Articles 39 and 40 of the Defence Service Law. Article 39 stipulates: “A female person of military age who has proved, in such manner and to such authority as shall be prescribed by regulations, that reasons of conscience or reasons connected with her family’s religious way of life prevent her from serving in defence service, shall be exempt from the duty of that service.” Article 40 further requires applicants to be committed to a traditional religious life, which includes observing Shabbat and the Kosher dietary restrictions at all times.

No language in Israeli law provides for the exemption of men from service in the IDF for reasons of conscience. It does provide for exemption for being unsuitable for military service, however. In 1995, the IDF established a “Conscience Committee” to review claims of conscientious objection based upon this provision. The number of applicants has not been large and, according to an Israeli civil rights group, did not exceed a couple dozen a year from 1998 to 2000. (Statistics for other years are unavailable.) Many times, Israeli citizens are unaware of this committee and, even though required by regulations, members of the IDF do not refer conscientious objectors to this committee.

War Resisters International, the international umbrella organization of which New Profile is an affiliate, urges people to contact the Attorney General of Israel and urge that office to work to end the restriction of contacts for the suspects and not to prosecute them for providing counsel to those attempting to exercise their consciences in accordance with international human rights law.

The Center on Conscience & War also urges its supporters to contact the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, and demand that the State of Israel recognize the rights of conscience of its own citizens and not to persecute those who offer information and guidance in asserting their true convictions.

It would be a crucial setback for the rights of conscience if these Israelis were persecuted for their convictions. Contact the Israeli Attorney General and the Israeli Embassy to make sure these most crucial of rights move forward, not backward. Demand Israel recognize the full right of conscientious objection.

Yours in Peace and Justice,

Thomas Bergman
Center on Conscience & War