Dear student, what does Dad think of the army?
A short time after the start of the present school year, the homeroom teacher entered one of the 11th-grade classes in the Leo Baeck School in Haifa with a bundle of questionnaires in her hand. Each student was asked to write his or her full name on the questionnaire and to answer a series of questions: Do you want to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, and if so, where? To what extent are your friends encouraging you to serve in the army, to what extent is your family encouraging you to serve in the army, or perhaps the opposite: Does your family want you not to serve in the army? Some of the students objected. Why were they being asked such personal questions, and being asked to write their names yet?
"Do the questionnaires quickly," the homeroom teacher said. "Don't be afraid to write your names. The questionnaires will remain with the youth counselors."
Youth counselors (the IDF acronym is madanit) are female soldiers (and in very rare instances male soldiers) in uniform who are active in almost all the schools in Israel on behalf of the IDF Education Corps, to prepare the students for their military service.
The homeroom teacher did not tell the students the truth, and maybe she didn't know it herself. Those questionnaires were not meant "to remain with the youth counselors." They were meant to reach the Education Corps and to help it find "problematic clients," the young people who are not happy about army induction and to give them personal attention. The IDF uses the direct-mailing method. The product it is marketing with this method is the military draft.
The numbers speak for themselves, and they did not go back up in the wake of the recent war in Lebanon: According to the latest data, only half of the young people in Israel serve in the IDF. Although these numbers include Arab and ultra-Orthodox youth, even according to IDF statistics only 65 percent of those who are supposed to be drafted each year are in fact drafted, or complete three full years of service in the IDF. Of them, according to data recently published by the IDF Personnel Directorate, in 2005, 4.7 percent of the draftees were released for psychiatric reasons. In 2006 this percentage rose to 5.6 percent. This led Major General Elazar Stern, the head of the Personnel Directorate, to propose a change in the wording of the documents of those who are released from the IDF for reasons other than medical ones. Instead of writing that the soldier was released due to "unsuitability," it will say that he or she was released due to "bad-severe behavior."
What does Dad think?
"We have discovered that there is a population with whom we have no problem, they want to be drafted," explains an officer in the Education Corps. "But in every class, everywhere, without any relation to socioeconomic status, there are kids on whom we have to work harder. We have decided to focus on those who have poor motivation to serve or those who don't want to be drafted at all. We decided that we are going to start preparation for the IDF for people who need us more."
The Education Corps, adds that same officer, has precise figures for every school in the country: the percentage of draftees in each school, the percentage of those who are released for psychiatric reasons. They "reflect" these figures to the school principals (in other words, the IDF gives them the data), and work in accordance with the information.
"We focus on schools that have low induction figures," explains the officer. "But the problem is that this is a dry statistic, and it indicates to us how the school behaves, not how the specific student behaves."
Therefore, the IDF had the idea of composing the personal questionnaire. The idea was to reach not only the "problematic" schools, in other words, those that have low induction percentages, but the "problematic" students themselves.
"Our intention was to strengthen those who are weak," says the officer. The idea was that students who did not demonstrate enthusiasm about serving in the IDF, or those whose parents were shown not to be pushing them in this direction, would receive "enriched army lessons" - this was the expression used on the Ynet Web site, which at the time exposed the plan to prepare the questionnaires - from youth counselors and senior officers who are supposed to convince the students that it's worth their while to be drafted.
But the IDF forgot one thing: To inform the Education Ministry about the plan to distribute the questionnaires among the students. And the complaints started to come in.
"My son told me about the questionnaire and about the questions they asked there about his parents' attitude toward the IDF," said a parent at Leo Baeck. "It seemed strange to him that they were asking him about his parents, but he filled out the questionnaire. To me it looks like at invasion of privacy. Why should the draft board know my opinions of the army, or those of other parents?"
That same parent contacted the principal of Leo Baeck, who in turn ordered to have the questionnaires collected. Additional complaints came to the Education Ministry from schools in Holon, Bat Yam and other places.
The ministry was surprised. "The questionnaires were distributed without our knowledge and without the approval of the ministry," said the ministry spokeswoman. Education Minister Yuli Tamir ordered the questionnaires not to be distributed, because they are "an invasion of privacy and reveal personal information."
"The IDF is worried," says Rela Mazali of New Profile, an organization that is fighting against the militarization of Israeli society by supporting young people who don't want to serve in the IDF. She says the initiative for the questionnaires, like other initiatives of the army in recent years, and like Major General Stern's idea about changing the definition of "unsuitability," are indications of this concern. "It's true that the majority do not say to the army 'we refuse,' but many of them know what they are doing and are doing it because of lack of confidence in the system."
A commander in the classroom
A year ago, New Profile was part of a battle against a previous initiative of the Education Corps: a program called "The Next Generation," in which officers from the rank of lieutenant colonel and above were supposed to enter the schools to "educate" the students toward the military draft. Former education minister Yossi Sarid and other public figures also thought there had to be a separation between education and the army, between IDF commanders and teachers.
Yekutiel Elazar, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves who became a school principal, said to the Knesset Education Committee at the time that the area of education for values is one in which the IDF lacks expertise. "IDF officers have not been trained to speak to students," said Elazar in the committee. "They barely educate their soldiers, and they speak to them by giving orders."
The Education Ministry is supposed to be involved in approving the army's "educational programs." It approved the Next Generation program, and continued to support it even after the program was criticized. In a reply to a letter of protest about the expansion of the draft preparatory program, Riki Laufer, the director of social-community education in the ministry, wrote that "the willingness of the young people to serve in the IDF is the fulfillment of a major goal of the education system." But the fact that the IDF decided to invade privacy and to gather personal information about the students in the high schools by means of questionnaires, was too much even for the ministry employees, and the schools received an order not to cooperate.
The Education Ministry proposed a compromise: Students would be allowed to choose whether or not to fill out the questionnaire. The army rejected the compromise because then, it argued, it would receive answers only from those who were planning on joining the army in any case. The army also rejected a proposal to send the questionnaires to the students' homes, because that would have taken more time, "and the critical time for us is between September and January in 11th grade. After that it's too late, the children are already beginning the induction process."
In the end it was agreed that the wording of the questionnaires would not be changed, but the questionnaires would be anonymous. Only the name of the class would remain on them. "That will help us, because in that way we'll have a distribution of the desire to serve according to classes, and we'll be able to operate according to that," they say in the IDF. In other words, the method of direct mailing will continue, but instead of directing it to "problematic" students, they will direct it toward "problematic" classes.
The Education Corps does not think there is any contradiction between army and education, between students and future soldiers: "Our credo is that one has to believe in the path. We in the IDF are responsible for getting things done. We have something to say."
Mazali argues the IDF doesn't even need so many people, but it wants to make the selection by itself. The Education Corps does not really deny this.
"It's true that the army doesn't need all of them, but it needs many of them," they say. "But aside from that, the army is a tool for maturity, a tool for social mobility. These are cliches, but there's a lot of truth in them and we believe in them."