Inside the IDF, a Clash Over Israeli-Jewish Identity

While the Education Corps aspires to pluralism, the military rabbinate has a different agenda.

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Uri Blau
Uri Blau

The realm of Israeli-Jewish identity constitutes an important element in the educational activity of the Israel Defense Forces.” That is the first sentence in the manual of the IDF Education and Youth Corps − being made public here for the first time − which is entitled, “‘Why’ and ‘How’ in Israeli-Jewish Identity.” The authors of the colorful, glossy 150-page manual, who are from the corps’ “Israeli-Jewish identity unit,” set forth the doctrine and the tools for imbuing values, point out some of the many stumbling blocks the manual’s users are liable to encounter, and refer them to civilian institutions, associations and organizations from which the IDF purchases education and “information” services.

It turns out, for example, that in addition to state institutions such as Yad Vashem ‏(the Holocaust remembrance authority‏) and the Yitzhak Rabin Center, and associations and institutes characterized by a pluralistic approach, the Education Corps also refers IDF units to the right-wing organization Elad – which among other things aims to settle Jews in the Palestinian village of Silwan adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem – and to Ascent, which, according to its Hebrew website, “was founded in 1983 with the holy blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with the aim of acquainting people with the Jewish spiritual experience as a whole and with the heritage of Safed and the kabbala in particular.”

A rabbi and and IDF soldier in 2012.Credit: Nir Kafri

The Education Corps does, in fact, display pluralism and seeks an open discourse – certainly more open than that sought by the rabbinate, its rival in striving to forge identity and instill values in the soldiers.

However, conversations with former officers in the corps and with representatives of bodies that run workshops and seminar days for soldiers and officers indicate that the IDF generally maintains less extensive ties with pluralistic organizations than with distinctively right-wing groups.

Col. (res.) Motti Shalem. Unimpressed.
Holy orders: An observant soldier.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern.
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Col. (res.) Motti Shalem. Unimpressed.Credit: Dan Keinan
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Holy orders: An observant soldier.Credit: Alex Levac
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Maj. Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern.

Indeed, there are apparently limits to openness even in the Education Corps. Its staff examines the content of every lecture or event in advance, checks the lecturers’ background and, in some cases, imposes strict ground rules ‏(“censorship,” as one of those interviewed for the article put it‏) in regard to the possibility of discussing certain issues, such as the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the exclusion of women from certain IDF events and the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Eight years have passed since the IDF issued its guidelines on Israeli-Jewish identity, titled “Yeud and Yechud” ‏(Mission and Distinctiveness‏). The text was drawn up by order of then chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, under the direction of Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern, former head of the Personnel Directorate, in conjunction with Benjamin Ish-Shalom, a professor of Jewish philosophy and founder and rector of Beit Morasha of Jerusalem: The Academic Center for Jewish Studies and Leadership.

“Ish-Shalom’s brief was to strengthen Jewish values and multiculturalism,” says a person knowledgeable about the drafting of the guidelines, “whereas for Ya’alon the message was to strengthen Jewish identity, and there was an agenda that I considered right wing.”

Prof. Ish-Shalom denies this: “I did not encounter any differences of ideas or principles with Ya’alon, and I think I know him. A people must be connected to its culture and its roots − that is obvious with respect to any people and language. The army, which drafts graduates of the Israeli education system and new immigrants, is in charge of the process by which soldiers undergo highly complex and demanding experiences, to the point of sometimes sacrificing their life. Because the army has the soldiers for at least three years, it needs to supplement what they encounter by offering some sort of educational response. That was Ya’alon’s conception, and we share it.”

Stern and Ya’alon did not respond to requests from Haaretz to be interviewed for this article.

The term “democratic Jewish state” is mentioned time and again in “Yeud and Yichud,” but in the “Why and How” book, the Education Corps emphasizes that “in the context of educational activity in the IDF, the term ‘Israeli-Jewish identity’ should be used, as it accords priority to the Israeli element, which is a primary common denominator for all those who serve in the IDF.”

According to Yedidia Stern, a law professor and vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute, that consciousness is “an instrument that intensifies the IDF’s operative capability. When I fight, what am I fighting for? What makes me take risks? We are acting to defend a particular way of life, so that a particular culture will be able to thrive, based on the wish to advance a way of life unique to us.”

But what common denominator do all soldiers, Jews and non-Jews, share?

Stern: “We do not need to hide the fact that this is an army of a Jewish state, but at the same time, if the army wants to avert a culture war and be liberal and fair, its obligation is to pursue the path of pluralistic Jewish consciousness. It follows that if the IDF rabbinate pursues a totally Orthodox agenda, it cannot be entrusted with the whole project.”

One of the reasons − some would say the main one − that the Education Corps became involved with Jewish identity in recent years was to counter the IDF rabbinate’s intensive activity in this realm. The rabbinate was seen to be encroaching into an area that was the corps’ prerogative. The infighting between the two IDF bodies continues. Those who hoped that the chapter devoted to the subject in the annual State Comptroller’s Report (released on May 1) would clarify this issue were disappointed. The comptroller threw the ball back into the court of the generals and the political echelon − in this case the defense minister.

The fighting rabbinate

The Military Rabbinate started dealing with “Jewish consciousness” in 2001, but in practice the battle between the rabbinate and the Education Corps was launched in 2006, when Rabbi Avichai Rontzki was appointed IDF chief rabbi (a post he was to hold for four years). Before taking up the position, Rontzki told Haaretz, he met with Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and told him exactly what to expect.

“I did not come to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes,” Rontzki explained in a recent interview. “I told the chief of staff everything. I came to the Military Rabbinate from civilian life with a number of goals, the main one being to promote Jewish identity, which would be the rabbinate’s hallmark.”

He diverted the bulk of the rabbinate’s budget to this objective and enlisted his best people − “based on the viewpoint that in order to defeat our enemies, which is the army’s goal, what’s needed is less pluralism and more Jewish consciousness.”

Just before taking over as chief rabbi, Rontzki met with about 50 mostly secular officers from the rank of lieutenant colonel and up. “What came up is that the combat-unit commanders have a great desire for Jewish consciousness,” he says.

Connected to this, Rontzki mentions Lt. Col. Rabbi Zadok Ben-Artzi – who heads the so-called Jewish consciousness unit in the army rabbinate – as one of his key appointments. The latter’s views can be gleaned from a 2008 article by Amos Harel, Haaretz’s military affairs correspondent. Harel reported that in a circular disseminated to commanders, Ben-Artzi wrote: “[Jewish] consciousness and the ability to make use of the driving forces and the insights gleaned from the Bible and from Jewish heritage heighten the army’s ability to achieve victory ... The ‘Jewish consciousness’ concept makes available to you the Jewish bookshelf as a source of inner fortitude and places you and your soldiers in the center of the next chapter of the Bible.”

Rontzki decided that only former combat soldiers would serve as battalion or brigade rabbis. “The idea is for the [army] rabbi to be an organic part of the unit and not only in charge of the challah and wine on Shabbat,” he says.

According to Rontzki, the acid test of his approach was Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, when the rabbis joined the troops during the fighting. He didn’t see any soldiers from the Education Corps in combat boots there, he adds sarcastically.

The Military Rabbinate’s approach is also reflected in the pamphlets it regularly distributes to soldiers. One article, titled “Specifying the Borders of the Land,” states: “The land and its borders are not only a technical framework but a breeding ground for the special qualities of the nation, which are manifested in the territory itself.”

Another rabbinate pamphlet, based on the weekly Torah portion “Naso” ‏(the second chapter in the Book of Numbers‏), notes that “Jerusalem is the eternal city, and at its center, in the place of the Temple Mount and the Holy of Holies, is the foundation stone − the foundation from which the world was formed, where the binding of Isaac took place − and in the heart of the city the Temple was built. Thanks to its strength we were privileged to renew our state, and we shall succeed in triumphing in all confrontations; we shall harmoniously conduct the orchestra of the Creation and we shall continue to move forward and rise transcendent for all eternity!”

According to Rontzki, the Military Rabbinate under him entered a vacuum in terms of dealing with Jewish consciousness in the IDF. “That realm did not exist,” he says. “We took the values of the spirit of the IDF and wrote our own appendices, with reams of sources from the Bible and Jewish history across the generations. We are a Jewish army and this whole aspect of Judaism − of combat, leadership, fraternity − simply had not existed.” In places where a reference had been made in army materials to Jewish sources, he adds, it was completely different from his approach − “as though it’s the United Nations here.”

The activity of the Military Rabbinate was based on reservist rabbis but also on external organizations, such as Elad, a right-wing association that is among other things involved in acquisition of property and settlement in East Jerusalem. Many of the activities the rabbinate offered the various IDF corps were funded by the rabbinate itself. Where did the money come from? In part from the rabbinate’s budget, says Rontzki, and in part from donations by “Jews for whom the concept of Jewish consciousness is important.” What about non-Jewish soldiers in the IDF? “We had an excellent response to our activity from the Druze commanders,” he says. “They are mostly not religious and have a very deep connection to our people, our history. They were ‘Ashkenazied,’ as people call it.”

Asked if the rabbinate under his command also acknowledged other streams in Judaism apart from Orthodox, Rontzki replies that when he assumed his post he met with Conservative rabbis, but that during his tenure no requests from them or others to appear before soldiers were received. His relations with the former chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Ilan Harari, and the current chief, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, were friendly but highly charged.

“There were a great many disagreements and certainly there was tension,” Rontzki admits, “but in our summation talks, they admitted wholeheartedly that we challenged them and they tried to emulate us.”

Crisis of confidence

In March 2009, in the wake of the friction between the army’s education and rabbinical units, a document of understanding was formulated by the head of the Personnel Directorate at the time, Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, setting forth their areas of responsibility.

Unit commanders were charged with educating soldiers and inculcating moral resilience, and also with instilling Jewish heritage and Israeli-Jewish identity. The Education Corps was tasked with determining policy and developing programs and tools, and in general was given professional responsibility for Israeli-Jewish identity. The Military Rabbinate, for its part, was granted the authority for setting policy and developing programs and tools for dealing with religious subjects, as well as taking professional responsibility in this area. It was also stipulated that content relating to Jewish consciousness would be integrated into seminars dealing with Israeli-Jewish identity, values and the spirit of combat, of which the Education Corps was in charge.

In addition, there would be one uniform format for educational Shabbat programs, which would be under the overall responsibility of the Education Corps with the participation of the Military Rabbinate.

However, these stipulations have apparently remained largely on paper. The IDF appointed a team to implement them, but according to the latest state comptroller’s report, Zamir found that “a total crisis of confidence exists between the sides.”
This conversation with Rontzki was held before the report’s release, but the way he summed up the situation shows he sensed which way the wind was blowing.
“It would be best,” he said, “if it were possible to set up a body consisting of representatives of the rabbinate and the Education Corps, which would create [program] content together.”

“Rontzki came in with an agenda based on the Military Rabbinate’s role as extending beyond religious tasks and encompassing intellectual subjects as well,” says Col. ‏(res.‏) Motti Shalem, who was in charge of the IDF’s educational training base in the 1990s and is now director of the program for the development of educational leadership at the Mandel Institute in Jerusalem. In his time, Shalem adds, “it’s not that there were no rabbis involved, but they operated under the auspices of the chief education officer.”

In June 2011, Haaretz reported about a document that Zamir submitted to Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, calling for a halt to growing religious extremism in the army and for a realignment of religious-secular relations. Shalem was unimpressed. “Zamir did not speak out about the danger when he was personnel chief. He spoke out when he left, but when he was in charge, he made no decisions.”

Similar criticism is voiced by Col. ‏(res.‏) Roni Sulimani. As head of the education department of the IDF Education and Youth Corps until two years ago, Sulimani dealt extensively with the question of Israeli-Jewish identity.

“It’s like dynamite for the senior officer corps,” he says. “I served under two Personnel Directorate heads. One of them, Stern, has an in-depth understanding of the subject but ultimately did not make decisions, and Zamir didn’t either.”

The major issue, Sulimani says, is “who determines what Israeli-Jewish identity is in this country and what the army’s role is in that regard. We are constantly affected by that tension, and because the IDF is one of the last public institutions where one can truly exert influence, it has become a playground for those who are so inclined.”

Why did the IDF agree to deal with identity in the first place?

Sulimani: “Because the education system did not come up with the answers. It said, effectively, that every subgroup was entitled to provide its own answers for itself.” Sulimani’s own approach is not much different. When he took over as head of the education department, he says, he found that the Education Corps had clear answers to many questions. “But when it comes to identity, there is no way we are going to define the proper identity for individuals. I want to preserve a situation in which everyone will have the right to his own opinion.

The rabbinate had a different approach.

“There are some who do not share this viewpoint and who think there are answers to the question of ‘who is a Jew,’ and are starting to introduce their agenda into the army. I waged a bitter struggle against that. What I didn’t want was that, beyond the General Staff orders about upholding kashrut, they would start to dictate what the army should look like intellectually.”

Ethics and codes

Sulimani dealt with the rabbinate by initiating IDF cooperation with pluralistic organizations − such as Bina (the Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture) and Alma, the Home for Hebrew Culture.

Eran Baruch, the executive director of Bina and the head of its so-called secular yeshiva, has been working with the IDF for more than two years, and says he has high regard for the activity of the chief education officer. “In a very determined and straightforward way,” Baruch says, “he is trying to promote the presentation of the broadest possible pluralism in the army, and it’s not easy for him. Most of the secular Israelis are actually Orthodox. We grew up with the notion that the religion ‘belongs’ to someone, and to come with a complex conception and present as broad a picture as possible is not self-evident within the system. The Education Corps is doing serious work in far from simple conditions.”

Concurrent with promoting cooperation with pluralistic groups, Sulimani says, organizations that worked with the IDF without supervision started to be monitored. Every organization that provided services to the Education Corps had to agree to follow a code titled “Ethics of Instruction.” It stated that “the goals of educational activity in the army are to influence the approaches and behavior of the IDF.”
Also, basic rules were laid down. The code stipulates, for example, that a lecturer brought in to speak before soldiers must not incite or advocate a particular political approach, proselytize for any religion, voice racist opinions and so on ‏(see below).

Sulimani’s decisions were highly controversial. “As soon as I introduced pluralism into the army I came under attack,” he says. “And not only from the rabbinate − from commanding officers, too.”

But you succeeded.

“There is currently a status quo, not an iota of change. On the day my daughter, who is now 14, enters the army and is not subjected to religious coercion, I will say I succeeded.”

For his part, former Personnel Directorate chief Zamir is outraged at the criticism leveled at him and rejects the assertion that he did not deal with the Education Corps vs. army rabbinate issue. He also discloses for the first time that he reprimanded Rabbi Ben-Artzi, of the Jewish consciousness unit, for his activity.

“The first time someone in the rabbinate exceeded his authority as stipulated by the document [of understanding],” Zamir says, “I called him in for a reprimand and he was told that if he continued in this vein he would leave the IDF. That was never done in the past.”

What did Ben-Artzi do?

“He issued all kinds of materials to soldiers which he was prohibited from doing.”
Ben-Artzi declined to comment beyond noting: “I have not given an interview since joining the army and I hope I will not have to do so for any reason before retiring,” he said. “I work with IDF soldiers, not with civilians.”

Zamir: “It was during my tenure that a binding document of understanding, with the endorsement of the chief of staff, was issued for the first time. It set forth the commitments of the rabbinate and Education Corps, and outlined the cooperation between them − for the first time in the IDF.” As this was a complex issue, he notes, “I appointed someone to monitor it. He got back to me after three or four months and reported that much was being implemented, albeit not all, because it was a bit difficult. I then reached the conclusion that it was better to take civilians who have influence over both the military chief rabbi and the chief education officer, and to try to reach understandings with them [to help] facilitate matters.”

Zamir chose two people who were acceptable to both sides: Rabbi Yigal Levenstein ‏(one of the founders of the pre-army preparatory program‏) and educator Aryeh Barnea: “I aske’d them to formulate a document of understanding about what’s right to do, even if they disagreed on the details.”

The State Comptroller’s Report, issued last week, refers to the Levenstein-Barnea paper, completed over a year ago, though without citing the authors’ names. According to the comptroller, “However important this document may be, it cannot provide an answer to the specific issues which arose from the arrangements document, notably the division of responsibility between the Education Corps and the Military Rabbinate.”

Back to the future

Formally, the army sees no difference between forging values and inculcating them in the soldiers, and carrying out operational missions. Thus, documents setting forth goals, plans of action, timetables and so forth have been drawn up. The “Israeli-Jewish identity unit” in the Education Corps, headed by an officer with the rank of captain, supervises this sphere.

According to the eight-year-old “Yeud and Yechud” document, “The IDF will carry out its missions optimally if its soldiers will be imbued with a solid feeling of national identity and will understand the meaning of being soldiers in the army of the State of Israel − a democratic Jewish state − and the limitations that devolve on them in executing the missions.”

The document notes that the young people serving in the conscript army are at a critical stage in their life, which will influence their future development as human beings and as citizens of the state. “Because the army is a hierarchical organization and service is prolonged and intensive, it has the power to influence the soldiers significantly.” It follows that the IDF is aware of the fact that the soldiers are a captive audience and seeks to exploit this to inculcate messages.

“The army cannot force values upon soldiers, and therefore it must be pluralistic,” Prof. Stern says. “But that does not mean it has to be devoid of any values generally. I think the Education Corps should be headed by a group of people whose relative advantage is their cultural breadth − or at least an appreciation of cultural breadth.”

In the end, however, the army is an army, so its educational activity is also perceived as military activity. The question, then, is whether it is capable of furthering pluralistic values. A request by Haaretz to sit in on soldiers’ educational activity was turned down, as was a request to talk to officers involved in this area. It was therefore necessary to come up with an assessment on the basis of documents and testimonies from outside the IDF. Here, for example, is what the instruction booklet of Beit Morasha − an institute that works regularly with the army − aimed at officers in the Command and Staff College, has to offer: Titled “The Future Starts Here,” the guide’s goal “is to strengthen the conception of leadership and create an infrastructure for expanding the soldiers’ identity in terms of values as senior commanders, by deepening their acquaintance with the Land of Israel: its landscapes, its heritage, its leaders and its challenges.”

One of the sites visited by officers who take part in Beit Morasha’s journey of roots is Tel Hai, in Upper Galilee, where Joseph Trumpeldor was killed in battle in 1920, and is said to have uttered the iconic words, “It is good to die for one’s country.”
According to the instruction booklet, there the officers examine “the attitude toward the Tel Hai myth over the years as a test case of the meaning of myths and how they are shaped ... Based on this, we will consider the question of which myths we, as IDF commanding officers, choose to preserve, and in the name of which values.” The participants also visit Gamla, in the Golan Heights, whose story “is one of stubborn resistance to the enemy, ending in a terrible tragedy.”

The question put to the officers there is, “How do you understand the act of suicide? Was it martyrdom, dangerous fanaticism or perhaps simply due to fear of revenge by the Romans?”

The officers also visit Tel Aviv, which some people “see as the ‘true capital’ of Israel,” and for whom the city constitutes “a rich and diversified cultural center.” Others, though, find it to be “precisely a manifestation of Israel’s loss of values, a center of hedonism and individualism whose practitioners evade coping with Israel’s urgent problems and evade bearing the joint burden,” according to the Beit Morasha booklet.

Naturally, Jerusalem is also on the itinerary − a city “contains great complexity, first of all by being a central national and religious site for Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Second, by containing many groups which are different from one another, each of which wants to see Jerusalem as a city in its image.”

“The pervasive emphasis of that document,” says Prof. Yagil Levy, who researches the relations between army, society and politics at the Open University, “is on discussion, uncertainty, pluralism, freedom of choice in terms of what to discuss, etc. This is definitely a source of anger for those who believe that the army should have an unequivocal approach, according to which it socializes the soldiers.”

At the same time, he adds, “This is not a purely liberal approach grounded in a solid philosophy. The chief education officer is pragmatic. He understands that in order to reach different audiences, he has to relate to the most basic common denominator. Moreover, he is very much connected to civilian institutions such as academics and therefore tends to preserve a liberal image. But over and above this, we see a sophisticated path which the Education Corps is probably not aware of and will not admit to. We have a socialization process that is being carried out supposedly via discussion and free choice and an almost postmodern commitment to values − but the boundaries of the discussion are limited.”

What remains outside those limits?

Levy: “The army does not take the officers to Kfar Shaul [Deir Yassin, in western Jerusalem, site of a massacre of civilians by Jewish forces in 1948], or to Arab villages whose inhabitants were expelled and then repopulated by Jews. There is a trip to Lake Hula and the mention of the area’s historic inhabitants, but no discussion of what befell them when the lake was dried out. The army makes sophisticated use of the personal eulogy delivered by [the writer] David Grossman in order to show that his son, who was a left-wing soldier, fought and fell in a war he believed in, but it does not quote more subversive texts by Grossman.

“Moshe Dayan’s eulogy for Roi Rutenberg [a young kibbutznik who was killed by a Gaza sniper in 1956] appears as a text without interpretation, certainly not one that interpreted it as a post-Zionist text, or as a militarist Crusader text, as [peace activist] Uri Avnery argued, followed by [late sociology professor] Baruch Kimmerling and by me. The settlement of the Negev is presented without a discussion about the Bedouin, while a visit to the Etzion Bloc allows a stop at a [West Bank] settlement which enjoys relatively broad public support, but of course nothing is said about the local Palestinians. The Tel Aviv visit emphasizes the city’s multicultural aspect, but this too is viewed as a challenge with which the army has to cope. Articles by intellectuals and academics are presented, but the texts are conservative in character and not one of them is critical − post-Zionist, for example.”

What to do

Levy’s analysis reinforces criticism voiced by representatives of various bodies that provide educational services to the IDF. They declined to be interviewed on record, for fear of losing their jobs and future cooperative work with the IDF − which is in any case in question due to budget cuts. ‏(In the past few months, contracts with a number of institutes have been suspended.‏)

“The content of our talks is examined carefully,” says a lecturer from one of the more pluralistic institutes that works with the army. In a talk about freedom, for example, lecturers were asked to ensure “that the messages are not overly subversive, not to talk too much about relinquishing the burden, and ultimately to arrive at an educational statement.” His organization, he says, “is very much afraid of a breakdown [in ties with the army] due to controversial statements, and for the same reason, I assume, we do not get to places where there is a large concentration of religiously-observant people.”

He adds, “We were given the message that none of the speakers should be people who refused to serve in the territories, that they must have a ‘clean record’ and no skeletons in their closet.” There are also many messages of “what to do and what not to do.” For example, in a mixed unit of male and female soldiers, activities involving physical contact are banned.

A person who worked with the IDF in recent years says that although the list of organizations with which the Education Corps works is diversified, the pluralistic groups get less work. This is also clear from the official data which the Education Corps provides to the State Comptroller’s Office. They show that none of the pluralistic organizations is among the institutions with which the army mainly works. In this regard, an instructor from Beit Morasha notes, “We strove for substantive pluralism and tried to open the floor to tough questions, from refusal to serve to the encounter with Palestinian refugees.”

And did the Education Corps accept that?

“Certainly not refugees,” she says, mentioning a booklet which dealt with this subject, among others, but which was banned for use. “As for refusal, you can talk about that only at the level where the bottom line is that refusal is prohibited, unless it is a flagrantly illegal order. Many participants told us, ‘That question needs to be changed,’ because it is too political or radical.”

Soldiers and officers who took part in educational army activities were also critical. An educational leadership workshop in Jerusalem, which is compulsory for Jewish and non-Jewish officers from intermediate rank ‏(captain‏) to brigadier general, has two central axes: Israeli-Jewish identity and educational-officer identity.

An infantry officer who recently participated in the workshop noted that the event only heightened the dissonance that already exists for the non-Jewish officers, as Israeli citizens who serve in the army and are required to sing the Zionist national anthem “Hatikva.” What bothered the officer most, however, was the fact that most of the instructors in the workshop, which lasts several days, were religiously observant and used terminology “of a national-religious, even nationalist thrust.”

The visit to the City of David, where the guides were from the Elad association, focused on history and said nothing about contemporary political issues, the infantry officer related. “We were not told that this association is working to judaize the City of David, and anyone who had not known that beforehand did not know it afterward, either.”

Was the discussion restricted or completely open?

“When the discussion touched on Arabs − not necessarily even Palestinians − it was stopped,” he says. At the same time, he points out that the fact that the participants were all officers, namely a relatively homogeneous group in terms of their values and their attitude toward the state, ensured that the discussion would never get to controversial political or moral issues.

A., a soldier from the paramilitary Nahal Brigade who completed his compulsory service about two years ago ‏(and asked that his name not be used‏), also recalls the activity of Elad. “They talked about why the water shaft was built, about the City of David, its history and why it is located there. At the end we got to the observation point and the instructor explained what the association is doing currently, saying that we were looking at a neighborhood [Silwan] which is the City of David ... It’s all told very nicely: ‘We are now renewing the settlement.’ He did not enter into a confrontation with us, but only presented a different narrative.”

‘No hidden messages’

From an Education Corps document which civilian groups working with the army must sign:

“As an executive body of the elected government, the IDF’s educational messages must not contradict the following principles and must stem from them: the basic principles which appear in the Declaration of Independence; the code of laws in general, and the Basic Laws in particular; decisions of the Supreme Court sitting as a High Court of Justice; the spirit of the IDF.”

Principles and modes of operation: “Adopt a balanced policy, ensure factual accuracy, do not provide out-of-context information, avoid selection of facts − mention all of them, distinguish between facts and interpretation, do not sneak in hidden messages.”

Cultivating the ability to think and developing independent viewpoints: “Enable criticism to be raised and encourage personal thought and grasping of facts, present the intention to influence viewpoints and even change them in certain cases.”

Sensitivity of the presenter: “The presenter must be aware of his personal positions on the theme dealt with during the program; his approach must not be presented as that of the system − a distinction must be drawn between them − no viewpoint is to be presented which is inconsistent with the substantive limitations of educational activity. On subjects about which an army viewpoint exists, that view must be presented; the presenter must not incite or advocate a particular political approach, proselytize for any religion, voice racist opinions or twist facts.”