Outrage Over IDF Soldiers Playing With Refugee Children Leads Army to Review Outreach Practices

President Reuven Rivlin weighs in, saying 'it's not a sin for soldiers to aid the children of desperate refugees.'

Foreign migrant workers children watch an acrobat perform during the Purim festival in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, March 22, 2016.
Foreign migrant workers children watch an acrobat perform during the Purim festival in Tel Aviv, March 22, 2016. AP

The Israel Defense Forces is to issue a list of approved organizations in which soldiers may volunteer, after a prominent right-wing activist from south Tel Aviv complained that troops were playing with the children of African asylum seekers in the area as part of the army’s educational activities.

Last week the commander of the training base of the Intelligence Corps suspended volunteer activities by his soldiers with the charity Elifelet: Citizens for Refugee Children. The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman termed the move a “local decision” by the base commander. Military correspondent Carmela Menashe first reported this story on Israel Radio.

Army units regularly volunteer with the children of asylum seekers through Elifelet. On Monday, soldiers from the Intelligence Corps came to the south Tel Aviv Shapira neighborhood for games and other activities at a playground.

Sheffi Paz, a prominent activist in efforts to remove asylum seekers from south Tel Aviv, documented the visit. She later wrote on her Facebook page that she had contacted Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, saying that he had promised her that “those scenes will not be repeated.”

After Ben-Dahan turned to the army chief of staff, the IDF replied that the list of organizations where soldiers are permitted to volunteer would be reviewed. According to Ben-Dahan, “The famous Jewish rule, ‘the poor of your own city first’ applies here.” On Wednesday President Reuven Rivlin addressed the issue, saying: “It is no sin for IDF soldiers to extend help to children of desperate refugees.”

In a statement, the IDF Spokesman’s Unit said the army is committed to volunteer service and incorporates such activities into its education programs. “In order to be more specific about protocol, the chief education officer will soon define a list of organizations approved for volunteering, in accordance with policy and orders.”