Soldiers (illustrative)
Soldiers (illustrative) iStock

The office of the IDF Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, sent a letter this week to Yad L'Achim responding to the organization's concerns that Christian missionaries are seeking to convert soldiers.

Some three months ago, Yad L'Achim exposed a missionary pamphlet titled, "Standing Order for Preaching the Gospel," which 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."

Yad L'Achim fired off a letter to the IDF Chief of Staff's office and to the defense minister. "We are speaking of something that completely defies the army's orders and all human logic," the letter said. "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."

In its letter, Yad L'Achim recalled a precedent from earlier years in which an appeal from the counter-missionary organization led to the personal intervention of the prime minister and defense minister. "Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, of blessed memory, who at the time also served as defense minister, dismissed from military reserve duty the missionary Richard (Aryeh) Surko-Ram who preached Christianity."

Responding to Rabbi Shmuel Lifschitz, one of the leaders of Yad L'Achim, the IDF Chief of Staff's Office stated: "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 the letter, a senior officer added that to his regret the army cannot block missionary activity directed at soldiers outside of IDF bases. "The missionaries' activities are centered in the civilian sphere, where they try to establish contact with soldiers, young people and so on. To my regret, this is not in the IDF's control."

Yad L'Achim 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.

At the same time, the organization reiterated its call to soldiers who encountered attempts to get them to convert out of their religion during their military service to "turn to us with details and we will deal with the problem discreetly."