The IDF has banned officers from accepting invitations to Christian missionary events, following campaigning by Jewish counter-missionary group Yad L'Achim.
Certain missionary activities are illegal under Israeli law – specifically proselytizing to minors or using deceptive methods to lure potential converts in – but Yad L'Achim says even those limited laws are poorly enforced and is campaigning for more legislation to fight the phenomenon.
But in the absence of tougher legislation the group has been using other methods to advocate against and raise awareness of an issue many Israelis view as a threat to their country's Jewish character.
The commitment from the IDF came after a two-year-long campaign, which started when Yad L'Achim learned that some 300 officers and soldiers from the army's most elite units had been bused to an event that included an undisguised missionary pitch by an American preacher.
The counter-missionary group appealed directly to the IDF's Manpower Branch, as well turning directly to the defense minister and IDF chief of staff, calling for an investigation into the event. Specifically, Yad L'Achim demanded to know who authorized taking the soldiers, who were in uniform, from their base to a missionary event, and demanded reassurance that such an incident would not reoccur.
They received a boost last year when upon assuming his new role as Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot sent a letter assuring Yad L'Achim "that the incident is being investigated by commanders in order to prevent a recurrence."
When the group then learned of a similar event scheduled to take place during the festival of Sukkot earlier this year, they appealed to the IDF's top brass to make good on Eisenkot's promise, and several days before the event they received a reply affirming that no IDF soldiers would be permitted to take part.
But the most significant breakthrough came only last week, when the IDF's Manpower Agency made it official in a letter to Yad L'Achim, clarifying that the orders had been forwarded to all IDF units: Accepting invitations for soldiers to participate in missionary events is absolutely forbidden.
A copy of the letter (in Hebrew) can be seen below: