The Israeli military said Tuesday it will begin enlisting soldiers who are HIV-positive, in a policy shift putting the country at the forefront of military inclusivity toward people with the virus that causes AIDS.
Military service in Israel is compulsory for Jews, but until now people with HIV were automatically deemed unfit to serve for medical reasons.
Col. Moshe Pinkert, the head of the military's medical services department, said that policy will change, allowing people who are HIV-positive to enlist and serve in a variety of positions, except combat, so long as they meet a series of health-related criteria. The policy is set to go into effect in the coming weeks.
Pinkert said the change came about as a result of shifts in HIV epidemiology, with better treatments available. He said only a handful of soldiers a year would be affected by the policy change, but that it was a "very important step...for the acceptance of people with HIV into society and reducing the social stigma."
He said Israel was a "pioneer" in making the change.
The military's previous policy prevented people with HIV from enlisting because of concerns that their health could deteriorate, that side effects of the treatments would affect their ability to function or that they could put their peers at risk of infection. Over the last decade, those insisting on enlisting were examined on a case by case basis and sometimes allowed to volunteer.
Pinkert said HIV-positive soldiers could serve in many positions except for those where they might be at risk of bleeding.
The U.S. military does not allow people who are HIV-positive to enlist. If a soldier contracts HIV while in service, he must undergo medical evaluations to determine whether he is fit to continue serving.
Gays serve openly in Israel's military, as does at least one openly transgender soldier, and the military has said it wants to offer transgender soldiers more support in their enlistment process.