Right-wing Group Takes IDF Soldiers on Tour of East Jerusalem

The nongovernmental organization, Elad, which works to increase the Jewish presence in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, is accused of pushing a political message onto the two-day course.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Israel Defense Forces cadets in officer training school spent the weekend at a “leadership Sabbath” in East Jerusalem, hosted by the right-wing organization Elad − which works to increase the Jewish presence in the city’s Arab neighborhoods.

The event was the culmination of a week of leadership training, initiated and planned by the IDF’s Education Corps.

As part of the experience, the cadets, who are in the first phase of their training as combat officers, were brought to the Seven Arches Hotel on the Mount of Olives, where they attended lectures by rabbis, Elad officials and others invited by Elad.

Cadets who took part said the speakers tended to avoid outright political statements, but that the lectures contained a clear ideological message for strengthening the Jewish presence in the eastern part of the city.

The father of one cadet told Haaretz that the lecturers “marketed a concentrated religious doctrine concealed under the heading of leadership.” The Education Corps was “helping, not in its best interest, to promote a very specific ideological agenda,” he said.

According to the IDF Spokesman’s Office, “Educational activities in the IDF include a broad variety of opinions and viewpoints in Israeli society, as part of enrichment for commanders and strengthening Israeli-Jewish identity. Cooperation with Elad is part of achieving this concept and does not involve political content.”

The spokesman added that the IDF funds half the cost of the activities, and that “all the content is approved ahead of time by the Education and Youth Corps and Officer Training.”

Elad, IDF cooperation

Cooperation between Elad and the IDF was first reported in Haaretz back in 2000; since then it has greatly increased. Both the Education Corps and the IDF chief rabbinate have conducted a variety of instruction programs with Elad’s assistance.

Over the past decade the IDF chief rabbinate and the Education Corps have been battling over responsibility for values education in the army. For a few years the rabbinate had the upper hand and the rabbis inserted programming into the various units, some of which secular officers described as “religious brainwashing.”

Over the past two years efforts have been made at the Manpower Directorate to restore supervision to the Education Corps of most educational activities. But although the Education Corps is responsible for content, controversial religious organizations such as Ascent Institute in Safed, which is close to the messianic wing of Chabad and the ultra-Orthodox group Darkei Avot, are taking a prominent part.

In recent years the number of young religious field officers has risen, and there has been a more moderate rise in the number of skullcap-wearing brigade commanders. Although claims of a religious takeover of the army are exaggerated, it seems hard to blame religious-nationalists for teaching their children to contribute their best during their military service.

Changes have been great; for example, in officers training for the Infantry Corps, more than 30 percent of cadets are Orthodox. But do commanders rein in the preaching of extremist ideological positions? The state comptroller’s report two years ago depicted chaos in the army’s educational work, and that rabbis are taking advantage of the situation.

Some observers hope that Col. ‏(soon to be Brig. Gen.‏) Avner Paz-Tzuk, who replaces Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister after six years at the post, will receive support from IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to make extensive changes. He might look at the plans that Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz has made; Almoz was initially supposed to become head of the Education Corps but will become chief army spokesman.

Another blow to education budget

In the upcoming slashing of the budget, the Education Corps will take another small blow: The army is cutting Education Corps positions and officers numbers. Even now, young Education Corps officers have a hard enough time influencing their commanders in the face of rabbis who are older and have combat experience.

The cut will weaken the officers even further; this battle may already have been decided.

IDF soldiers training for a ceremony on Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Illustrative. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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