Every year, thousands of minority recruits join the IDF (Zahal). Israel’s military makes tremendous efforts to integrate minorities into the army and society in general, resulting in a vast diversity of soldiers among the IDF (Zahal)’s ranks.
Israel is a country known as “a nation of immigrants.” Soldiers come from all over the world to live in Israel and serve in the IDF (Zahal), bringing their unique culture and traditions from their countries of origin. Other soldiers come from racial, national, cultural and religious groups that have lived in Israel for generations, including Bedouin, Circassians, Druze, Arab Christians and Arab Muslims. The IDF (Zahal) acts to unite members of Israeli society, providing them all with equal opportunity to serve their country.
Did you know? Here are some facts about minorities and diversity in the IDF (Zahal):
1. At military swearing-in ceremonies, soldiers may pledge an oath of allegiance on the Tanakh (Old Testament), Christian Bible or Koran.
2. The many minorities that join the IDF (Zahal) are given special privileges since their differences in religion and culture are accepted. For instance, additional vacation time is allotted to soldiers of all faiths and religious backgrounds. An example is Bedouin and Druze soldiers who are granted time off from the army to celebrate the religious holiday of Eid al-Adha with friends and family.
3. Israel is one of few countries that allow gay individuals to openly serve in the military. Sexual orientation does not stand as a barrier to receiving promotions or joining elite units. Israelis show a “great tolerance” for gay soldiers.
4. The Druze are an ethnoreligious monotheistic community who live primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. Over 133,000 live in Israel, mostly in the north. They have the highest draft rate in Israel, with 88% of Druze males joining the IDF (Zahal).
5. Since 1948, women have served side-by-side with male soldiers in the IDF (Zahal). The Equality Amendment to the Military Service Law states that “the right of women to serve in any role in the IDF (Zahal) is equal to the right of men.” Each year, over 1,500 female combat soldiers are drafted into the IDF (Zahal) and 92 percent of all positions are open to women.
6. In 2001, the Women’s Affairs Advisor to the Chief of Staff was created in an effort to empower women and maximize the capabilities and opportunities of women serving in the IDF (Zahal).
7. Despite being exempt from their mandatory military service due to mental or physical difficulties, many still choose to enlist in the IDF (Zahal) as volunteers. The Shiluv Menatzeach program helps over 150 mentally challenged and Down’s syndrome volunteers complete 1-2 years of military service, where they are integrated in roles with the general soldier population.