The headline reads “IDF Chief of Staff to Yad L’Achim: Missionaries not allowed on army bases.” The rest of the article, however, reveals that the IDF chief of staff merely gave a standard reply to Yad L’Achim’s complaint about finding a Messianic pamphlet for Messianic soldiers.
The pamphlet is titled “Standing Order for Preaching the Gospel,” and according to the article, it contained the following: “Military service is a special, challenging period with many opportunities. The day-to-day interaction in the army opens many doors to preach the gospel. This Standing Order is meant to give practical tools for preaching to different groups in Israeli society which we encounter during regular military service.”
The pamphlet is intended for Messianic soldiers, and didn’t include any urging of illegal activity, nor anything out of the ordinary. It was just standard instructions for any Christian or Messianic believer, to learn how and when to share their faith and be a witness to the people around them as they do their IDF service. How to speak about Jesus with some secular? How to speak about him with religious Jews? Things like that.
The anti-missionary organization, however, took this as an attack, and wrote to the IDF chief of staff that “The Israel Defense Forces must act decisively against unrestrained attempts to get soldiers to abandon Judaism and convert to Christianity. Clearly, there is no place for cult activity that attempts to alter the delicate fabric within the army and to stab the Jewish people in the back.”
The letter must have caused some raised eyebrows at the chief of staff’s office. An ultra-orthodox organization whose members refuse to serve in the army for religious reasons complain about people of other faiths in the army? Really? Did these guys miss the fact that there are already numerous Christian, Muslim and Druze soldiers in the IDF?
There are a number of documented cases when Messianic Jews in officer training have been asked to give a lecture on their faith to their comrades explaining the identity of who they are and what they believe. When some cadets have expressed dissatisfaction, they have been reprimanded, because an officer of the IDF is expected to be aware of all sides of the Israeli society, including the Messianic Jews. There are hundreds of Messianic Jews serving in many different positions in the IDF, from professionals to foot soldiers, and on all levels of military command.
The answer the chief of staff gave Yad L’Achim was, however, polite and diplomatic, telling them that “According to IDF orders, it is forbidden to distribute propaganda and sermonizing material. Enforcement of these rules is the responsibility of the direct commanders, [who can impose punishments, including] disciplinary measures, when soldiers act against army regulations. In any event, these missionary organizations have no access to the army and hold no activities on army bases.”
In other words, they are not monitoring thought criminals or expelling Messianic Jews from the army, as the title implied. They do prohibit distribution of religious pamphlets in military bases, just as they also prohibit distribution of election propaganda. This doesn’t mean that the soldiers can’t talk to one another about their personal faith, or political views.
The answer apparently appeased Yad L’Achim’s outrage, as they, according to the article, “expressed satisfaction that the IDF Chief of Staff sees eye-to-eye with it on the problem of Christian missionaries operating in the IDF and that he is committed to punishing those who violate the rules.”