New IDF Gadna Youth Program Criticized as Overly Militaristic

Weeklong training program for teens to include lessons in combat doctrine, the purity of arms and ethics in combat.

Or Kashti
Haaretz Correspondent
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Or Kashti
Haaretz Correspondent

Educators and professors have criticized a new focus of the Gadna youth corps program for pre-military training of teens, calling it unduly militaristic.

"One gets the impression that the program was prepared in the 1950s, in the previous century," said Professor Daniel Bar-Tal, of the Tel Aviv University's School of Education. "It perpetuates a security-minded outlook," he added.

Gadna, a department of the army, predates the establishment of Israel.

The new Gadna program includes training in squad-sized operations, night treks and shooting, and excellence in these comes with a promise of rewards when the youth become Israel Defense Force conscripts.

In addition to updated information on the various options for service in the Israel Defense Forces, the draft program says "emphasis will be put on the obligation of the individual to contribute to the best of his ability during his service in the IDF, out of a sense of belonging to a nation, a country and a state, and on the values of the IDF and its norms."

Another principle the program stresses: "It is the obligation of the individual to contribute to the best of his ability during his army service to ensuring the existence and security of the state and its security, which is the primary duty of a citizen."

"This is a takeover by the army of the high school, that is meant to be the foundation for a civil society," said Hebrew University Professor Matanya Ben Artzi in response to the proposed program. His son Yoni was arrested for refusing to be drafted because he is a pacifist.

"The program compares the values that result from joining fighting units and other values, which are presented here as inferior. The expression "self-fulfillment" is given a negative, selfish meaning compared to the values of conscription. Anyone who does not shares these values is excluded... and this constitutes the wiping out of the values of an entire generation," Ben Artzi says.

"The program makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, at the supreme value is the state, and that the norms are established by the state and the army, whatever they may be," said Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, of the Tel Aviv University School of Education. He adds that the subjects being taught during the Gadna program suggest that "there is no room for hesitation, for criticism or any signs of these. All, including the parents, must contribute to the effort of conscription."

In response, Education Minister Yuli Tamir said, "We educate the pupils to civil and social commitment to the state, which includes military service. If the IDF is helping us encourage this outlook of commitment, then I will support the program."

The Education Ministry was reluctant to discuss the type of "credits" that schools showing high rates of participation in the program would receive, arguing that this is a new program. However, pupils who excel in the program will be given preference in joining certain combat units.

There are currently 73,000 pupils in the 11th grade in state and state religious schools, and 16,000 to 19,000 of them participate in the weeklong Gadna training. In the Education Ministry there are plans to significantly expand the level of participation.

A teacher who accompanies classes participating in the Gadna program says that in the current curriculum there is shooting and military indoctrination, but there is no training in assaulting positions or in outdoor camping.

"In assault [training] there are no values learned, and there is no need for the pupils to do this," he said. "The aim of the Gadna is to open a window into the army, not to transform the pupils into infantry. It is much more appropriate to expose them to reality, for example, discuss the daily dilemmas in the territories," he added.

Two weeks ago, Education Ministry Director General, Shmuel Abuav, held talks about changing the Gadna program. The draft proposal, a copy of which was received by Haaretz, includes military training and trials, both physical and in the use of weapons, as well as lessons in combat doctrine, the purity of arms and ethics in combat.