No Leftism Allowed at Right-wing Group’s Pre-army Tours, Israelis Say

Pre-army programs began in the religious-Zionist community but have become even more popular with secular young people.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

A nonprofit group is using subsidies to offer West Bank tours in which participants are only exposed to right-wing views, according to students and counsellors in pre-army programs.

The group, Hare’ut, which was founded in 2012, is directed by Rivka Hever. Her husband is Ze’ev Hever, head of the construction arm of the Yesha Council of settlements. Hever declined to comment for this article.

Hare’ut offers a week-long, subsidized trip through the country at a cost of 10,000 shekels ($2,880). It does not allow meetings with left-wing groups such as Breaking the Silence.

Currently, 47 pre-army programs operate in Israel. They began in the religious-Zionist community but have become even more popular with secular young people.

In addition to payments by parents, the state contributes 28 million shekels to pre-army programs. A tour of the West Bank is usually offered by these programs as part of preparation for military service.

According to directors of pre-army programs, for the 10,000 shekels Hare’ut offers a week-long tour, which includes all meals and accommodations as well as lectures and transportation in armored buses. The trip includes visits to settlements, a tour of Hebron, meetings with army veterans living in settlements, or with settler activists such as Noam Arnon and Benny Katzover.

“You have no choice but to work with Hare’ut,” said one counsellor who requested anonymity. “To organize a week-long tour of the settlements with accommodations, food and so on isn’t simple. A whole team has to work on it for a month. There’s also the problem of the armored bus. It costs a huge amount.”

According to the counsellor, Hare’ut said it provided the programming and the students could not meet with left-wing groups like Breaking the Silence.

“We wanted to organize a meeting with Breaking the Silence because those guys were soldiers too, but Hare’ut didn’t agree,” the counsellor told Haaretz. “The guides and the lecturers were very nice, but at some point the students asked why we weren’t meeting with Palestinians.”

Karmi Shurkand, of the Amihai pre-army program at Kibbutz Kramim, said he was part of a team that went to see Hare’ut two weeks ago about a trip.

“They said they’re an apolitical group ... and we could meet with left-wing groups,” Shurkand said. “The goal would only be that we got to know the area.” Shurkand said that in the end his group went with Hare’ut on a three-day trip.

“On those three days there was nothing that even came close to a left-wing group …. In Mateh Binyamin we visited a winery. They didn’t talk about wine at all. They talked about trivia on why Israel has to stay in Judea and Samaria,” Shurkand said, referring to the West Bank.

T., a student in the Ein Prat pre-army program whose class toured with Hare’ut, said Hare’ut didn’t let the group bring its own people.

“We wanted Breaking the Silence but Hare’ut didn’t agree,” T. said. “A week later at a meeting with the head of the program we asked why we went with Hare’ut. He said it was because Hare’ut funds the thing. I wanted to hear both the left and the right, but we didn’t hear the left.”

Yariv Oppenheimer, head of Peace Now, which also offers tours of the West Bank to pre-army programs, says every year his group is approached by dozens of students who complain about “right-wing brainwashing during the territories week.”

“Hare’ut takes advantage of funding and logistical problems and entices the preparatory programs, and there’s only room for right-wing opinion,” Oppenheimer said.

“If they bring a left-wing speaker it’s for an hour and a half and it’s a fig leaf for the whole series. Many preparatory programs we talked to admitted that they have no choice because of a lack of funding. They have to go with Hare’ut and let it manage the week almost totally.”

For his part, Yossi Kaufman of Hare’ut said: “We do not reject Peace Now but we do reject Breaking the Silence. We are a Zionist organization and they work against the state. That’s fair. The preparatory programs can invite them over and host them.”

Israeli soldiers on the northern border this week. Credit: AP

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