Members of the  Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed youth group.
Members of the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed youth group. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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The Kfar Tavor municipality in the Lower Galilee has ordered the town's only youth movement to cease all activities, following advice from the directors of the local community center. For 20 years the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed movement was Kfar Tavor's only youth group. However, officials of the community center, which is responsible for the town's informal education programs, said it was "dissatisfied" with the group's performance.

The youth group, whose name means "working and studying youth," claims the decision was made because community center officials were rebuffed in their efforts to influence the movement's programming. The closure will affect 150 children.

A letter the community center sent to local residents said the decision had been made by the center's Youth Committee, which felt the group "wasn't meeting expectations." But a list of demands the community center directors had prepared before the decision was made shows evidence of a struggle the youth movement says was being waged against the movement on ideological grounds.

For example, the document states that the movement's activities must not have "any content that leads to taking any position whatsoever." Another clause states that "the activities cannot have any political leanings." The document then states, "This applies equally to activities about [Yitzhak] Rabin as to activities about Gandhi [the late right-wing minister Rehavam Ze'evi], and all topics and content must be approved by the [Youth] Committee, which will also determine how it will be delivered to the members."

The community center also demanded the right to choose the movement's local coordinator, and insisted that the movement's educational programming be set together with a local steering committee in accordance with the needs of the town.

The center, for example, made clear that the movement should not encourage participating 12th graders to do a year of national service before enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces.

Ro'i Yesod, the general secretary of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, said, "We are witnessing an effort to undermine a youth movement, to silence it, to prevent it from educating toward critical thinking and to present ideas and positions." He added that it was intolerable and dangerous to try to silence a "Zionist, pioneering and recognized youth movement, whose graduates have a lot of shares in the building of this country."

In a recorded conversation with the director of the community center's Youth Division, Oded Shehori, the director is heard threatening youth movement members doing national service who had come to recruit new members in the local school. "You are trespassing, you came [uninvited]. You're young guys, before the army ... don't get mixed up in crime before you go into the army," he said. "Within the village, areas on which I pay taxes, you may not enter. Period. Not within the municipal area of the village."

While the youth movement's activity is funded by the Education Ministry, the ministry noted that Kfar Tavor is not a signatory to the Youth Movement Convention, which codifies the responsibility local authorities have to youth movements. Consequently, the ministry has no authority to intervene.

Eli Larom, chairman of the community center's board, said, "We were chosen to represent the public, and the community can decide for itself what it wants. The movement got an opportunity, but it never took off; there weren't enough members and the activities were not of high quality."

While backing the community center's decision, Kfar Tavor Mayor Yossi Dola said that after hearing complaints from youth movement officials, he would be meeting them again. "Out of respect for the movement," he said, "I told them I have no problem hearing them again. They are supposed to come to a meeting in mid-June."