IDF recruitment of foreign citizens (legal information)
Under what circumstances can foreign citizens volunteer to enlist and serve in the IDF? IDF recruitment of foreign citizens is possible via the Volunteers from Abroad (Mahal) track for Jews living abroad. Foreign citizens who are not Jewish may volunteer in non-military framework. In this article, attorney Joshua Pex, an expert on Israeli immigration law from our firm, explains the law on this issue.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF or Tzahal in Hebrew) is considered among the strongest armies in the world according to several international rankings. Given the IDF’s role as the people’s army of the state of Israel, it is one of the most important factors in national identity, not only for Israelis, but also for Jews and their family members around the world. There are quite a few Jews living in Europe, the USA and other places in the world who are interested in enlisting in the IDF as part of immigrating to Israel. There are also quite a few non-Jewish foreign citizens who wonder if they can enlist in the IDF.
Our firm deals with representing foreign citizens in procedures for immigration to Israel, and accordingly we receive many inquiries regarding enlistment in the IDF. For this reason, we wrote this article to explain under what circumstances it is possible to enlist in the IDF, and the complex legal situation surrounding the issue in general.
What does Israeli law stipulate regarding IDF recruitment of foreign citizens and what is the Mahal track for the enlistment of Jews living abroad?
The law which addresses IDF recruitment procedures is the Security Service Law. The law defines the subject of volunteering for the IDF in general terms, and the Defense Minister then sets specific regulations which define the conditions in detail. These regulations regarding enlistment in the security services state that: volunteers must be 18 years of age or older, or 17 years of age with their parents’ or guardian’s consent to enlist in the security service; that they be found fit for security service or be given special permission from a military doctor approving their enlistment; and the Defense Minister must approve their voluntary enlistment. The last condition is the most crucial condition for foreign citizens to enlist in the IDF, and it grants the Defense Minister broad authority to decide who can actually serve in the IDF.
Over the years, the Defense Minister’s policy has given priority to recruiting Jews who live abroad. For them, approval is usually granted under a dedicated recruitment track called Mahal (Mitnadvei Hutz Laaretz – Volunteers from Abroad). This track enables young Jews living in foreign countries to voluntarily enlist in the IDF, with many coming to Israel alone. The IDF usually recognizes recruits who arrive in Israel without their families as lone soldiers. For extensive information regarding the enlistment track for Jewish foreign citizens, see another article published on our website on the subject of enlistment in the IDF for Jews and Israelis living abroad.
Enlistment of great-grandchildren of Jews in the IDF
As stated above, not only foreign Jews are interested in serving in the IDF, but also foreign citizens who are not Jewish. People want to volunteer in the IDF for various reasons, including patriotism and identifying with the values of the State of Israel, a desire to serve in the IDF as part of immigrating to Israel, as well as a desire to experience military service in one of the most powerful armies in the world. In recent years, the Defense Minister has expanded the recruitment policy, opening additional tracks for the enlistment of great-grandchildren of Jews (fourth generation from Jewish ancestors). In general, the Israeli authorities’ policy is to grant great-grandchildren of Jews the option of obtaining legal status in Israel, even though they do not meet the eligibility conditions for immigrating to Israel according to the Law of Return.
As a rule, the minor great-grandchildren of Jews who wish to stay in Israel with their families are granted a temporary A5 visa. This visa allows its holder to stay in Israel for up to one year, and it can be renewed for a period of up to 5 years. In many cases, great-grandchildren of Jews are approved for naturalization after this period. The Defense Ministry’s current policy grants great-grandchildren of Jews the option to volunteer to serve in the IDF after becoming citizens.
IDF recruitment of foreign citizens – contact an attorney specializing in Israeli immigration law
In summary, Jewish foreign citizens can volunteer to serve in the IDF. Non-Jewish foreign citizens may volunteer in non-military tracks. If you have any questions or need assistance on this issue, we will be happy to help. Our law firm, with offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specializes in representing clients in Israeli immigration procedures with the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry and all the authorities and levels of courts.