Budget dispute halts celebrated IDF conversion course
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Budget dispute halts celebrated IDF conversion course

Army complains it has not received NIS 20 million ($5.22 million) to cover Nativ program’s 2015 budget, cancels upcoming course

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), along with the IDF's then-chief education officer Brig. Gen. Eli Schermeister (right), and several participants in the army's Nativ conversion course on December 15, 2010. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO, File/Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), along with the IDF's then-chief education officer Brig. Gen. Eli Schermeister (right), and several participants in the army's Nativ conversion course on December 15, 2010. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO, File/Courtesy)

The Israel Defense Forces announced Monday it was freezing its celebrated Jewish conversion course due to budget constraints. The move comes amid a bitter dispute between the Defense Ministry and the Treasury over the army’s 2015-2016 budget.

Hundreds of soldiers, most of them non-Jewish relatives of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, enter the army’s conversion system each year. Thousands have successfully finished the program and converted to Judaism in the IDF chaplaincy’s rabbinic court.

The army’s program, called Nativ, is the only state-recognized conversion system in the country not controlled by the Haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

The army’s head of manpower, Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky, convened a meeting of top IDF Manpower Directorate officers Monday, Channel 2 news reported. The meeting concluded with the announcement that the next Nativ course, slated to open in September, had been canceled.

According to the army, the Treasury has refused to transfer the NIS 20 million ($5.22 million) required to cover the program’s 2015 budget. Courses already opened in 2015 were financed from other Defense Ministry budgets, officials said.

The Nativ program is funded separately from the general defense budget.

“Each year, there’s a saga around this issue,” a Defense Ministry official told Channel 2. “It’s gone too far. If the money isn’t there, the September course, and those that follow, simply won’t happen.”

“The IDF believes in the importance of the Nativ course and is doing everything it can to keep it going, despite the failure to transfer the promised funds [for the program],” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement. “Courses currently underway will be allowed to continue until their [already planned] conclusion.”

The Finance Ministry did not immediately respond to the army’s announcement.

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan, a former director general of the rabbinic courts, sounded a more optimistic tone than the IDF. “I’m certain that the budget issue will be resolved and the Nativ course will continue to welcome potential converts,” he said, according to the Arutz Sheva website.

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