State of Israel
Ministry of Justice
The Department for International Agreements and International Litigation
1. According to Article 36 of the Israeli Defense Service Law (Consolidated Version), 1986, the Minister of Defense has the authority to exempt or defer any soldier, women and men alike, from fulfilling his national army service for reasons that are listed in the law. These reasons may stem from educational requirements, security settlement, the national economical situation, extenuating family circumstances, or other reasons.
2. Further exemptions by law are granted in Section 39 of the Law, to women that wish to be exempt from their duties for the following reasons:
a) Marriage, parenthood or pregnancy.
b) Conscience objection.
c) Religious familial background.
3. The IDF will respect the views of a conscience objector, provided that it is satisfied that these views are genuine. To this end, a special military committee, headed by the IDF’s Chief Recruitment Officer, or his deputy, hears the application of those who wish to be exempted from the army on the basis of conscience objection. Among the members of this committee are an officer with psychological training, a member of the IDF attorney’s office and a civilian expert on conscience objection.
4. The willingness to grant an exemption from the army due to conscience objection stems from the fact that the State sees the freedom of conscience as a fundamental human right and this attitude is integral to a tolerant society, regarding objection as a human phenomenon.
5. The High Court of Justice has addressed the issue of conscience objection in H.C.J. 7622/02, David Zonsien v. Judge-Advocate General. The Court here held that the difficulty lies in balancing between conflicting considerations: the duty to pay appropriate respect to the individual conscience of the objector, stemming from the right of individual dignity, and the consideration that it is neither proper nor just to exempt individuals from a general duty imposed on all other members of society.
6. A very fine line divides between the two main fundamental values of society: the freedom and protection of the individual and the value of equality and order in society. The duty of army service is a civil duty of every citizen that is explicitly stated in the Law. It is extremely difficult to decipher where an objection is a conscience objection, and therefore acceptable, and when to deny the exemption.
7. In a recent decision of the high Court of Justice from August, 2004, (H.C.J. 2383/04 Liora Milo v. Minister of Defense et al.) the Court emphasized that once it is clear that the objection stems from genuine motives, there is a need to distinguish whether the case is a conscience objection case or non-fulfillment of a civil duty. The latter has a "protest nature" to it and is perpetuated by ideological and political opinions with the intention of influencing change in State policy, usually performed in public by numerous people trying to get a message across to the authorities. The individual’s needs and consciousness are not the reasons standing behind this phenomenon.
8. The Court here affirmed that exemption from army service, in the case where conscience objection is proven, is granted to men and women alike in the context of the abovementioned Section 36, according to the balances set in H.C.J David Zonsien, mentioned above.
9. The conscience objection is compelled by personal and specific motives. The purpose behind the objection is not to change state policy, it stands on its own as a completely individual decision with personal reasons. The individual has no interest in influencing others to join him.
10. Furthermore, the Court here distinguishes between a general objection and a selective objection. The general objection that is acceptable has no relation to the circumstances of time and place or to the army’s policy, but rather stems from the lack of correlation between the individual and the nature of the army service. The selective objection is the result of ideological and political beliefs and is directly linked to the time and place where duties need to be performed by the army (objection to fulfill duties at a specific place, time or manner). Inherent in the army system is the fact that individuals do not choose what commands to fulfill or not. The selective objection alerts discrimination and dismantles the unity existent in the defense forces inherent in its nature.
11. The IDF is non-political. Soldiers are not permitted to engage in partisan politics while in uniform. Nevertheless, as citizens of a democracy, soldiers are permitted to be members of political parties and to advocate change in government policies. IDF Soldiers, just as all Israeli citizens, are encouraged to vote in national elections. By voting and exercising their individual right to party membership, soldiers are able to participate in the democratic process with the intention of achieving change.
12. Nevertheless, it is absolutely imperative to differentiate between the duty of fulfilling a command and political debate. Incorporating political values and opinions in the IDF drafting policy, will damage the basic values of the security service. Acceptance of selective objections will discriminate between individuals and in effect harm the democratic system based on equality.
13. Note that the disciplinary measures that Israel takes against objectors who are illegally refusing to fulfill their duties are lenient in nature. This, despite the imminent security threat, which places a higher value on the preparedness of each individual soldier in its comparatively small army.