IDF Launches Educational Offensive on Israel’s Schools

A joint army – education system program imbuing students with a sense of duty is expanding to thousands of schools across the country, teacher: ‘New program sad and foolish.’

Talila Nesher
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Talila Nesher

It's Sunday evening and Pisgat Ze'ev High School in Jerusalem looks like a military operations room. The walls are plastered with pictures of soldiers, and blue and white posters warmly welcome the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff. In a room on the top floor, dozens of teachers and uniformed military personnel gather awaiting the officials' arrival.

The visit came as part of an expanding project to connect the IDF with the education system. More than 15,000 teachers and students at hundreds of schools have enlisted so far in an initiative called "Derekh Erekh" (Path of Values), created by the Education Ministry together with the Defense Ministry and the IDF, which allocated a NIS 300,000 per year for the project.

According to the official goals of the project, Derekh Erekh is "intended to strengthen the ties and cooperation between schools and the army." During visits to schools, officers and teachers discuss the relationship between the army and society, implementing "education toward values" and ways "of strengthening the teenager's commitment to having a meaningful service in the IDF."

"Our meeting today is for those who charge ahead," Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar told the teaching staff, adding that he sees the teachers and members of the educational staff as having an important responsibility, given their direct contact with teenagers and students.

"My expectation of the (educational) system are not just in the field of learning, but also in areas of values," Sa'ar explained to the teachers. "Encouraging service in the IDF is not a favor that we are doing for the IDF, but a moral issue." A pamphlet that was handed out at the event included selected quotations from teachers who participated in the program, according to which "The army for me is a question of national survival, it's the essence of the Jewish people," and "The army is the soul of the Jewish people, it's a part of my soul."

As part of the move, the Education Ministry and IDF were allowed to reveal to the public all the statistics on army enlistment of students per year, including how they were divided between combat units and all others. "I find it appropriate to congratulate the school," said Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, "I can see that the data is positive compared to other schools."

Sa’ar read the list of values the program is meant to convey to school staff. “The value of self defense for our people for ourselves, for our country, our citizens, for our own strength, it is a value that must be stressed for its own sake the second value is carrying the burden of service, the ethical aspect of our obligation to serve our society and country, and the third value, is love of the homeland,” read Sa’ar.

The IDF preparation program at Pisgat Ze’ev high school begins from the fifth grade, continues with preparation for the first call up, and includes field trips dedicated to the subject of “love of the land and military history.”

The twelfth grade curriculum contains over ten activities related to the IDF, among them are “Candle, wreath, and flag – laying wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers,” meetings with former prisoners of war, and a day dedicated to preparation for the draft, including simulations, and other activities.

The close ties between the IDF and the education system even gave way to the creation of a new position, called “IDF preparation coordinator,” funded by local authorities. The coordinator is equipped with a thick binder, produced by the society and youth director, on the subject of “readiness to serve and preparation for the IDF.”

According to a teacher that took part in the project, who chose to remain anonymous, “The hours-long event, was an exaggeration of worship. It was like a litmus test result of what the army does to us. As soon as the army shows up, a group of women takes off their shoes, as if on holy ground, in unwilling adoration,” said the teacher.

“They took hours from the lives of teachers, so that men from the army would come and educate women from the education system. What’s going through Israeli society’s head?” she asked.

“Young men from the army come to be commanders in the education system? What talents make them special? What imbues a sanitation officer that’s been in the army for two years with the aura that lets him come and educate the educators? It’s sad and foolish.”

“Teachers are lifelong draftees,” explained Sa’ar. “This project is one of the best things taking place in high schools.”

Read this article in Hebrew

Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and Education minuster Gideon Sa'ar at Pisgat Ze'ev High School.Credit: Shiran Granot

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