The army’s Education Corps has suspended all lectures by outside organizations on Jewish identity, Zionism and Land of Israel studies, as well as visits to some museums until after the election, due to concerns that such events could exert political influence. Some of the organizations affected have criticized the step, claiming that such restrictions do not apply to the Israel Defense Forces’ Rabbinate.
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Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where the establishment of the State of Israel was declared, is one of the sites off-limits until after the election. The museum’s director, Hezi Tzviel, said the claim that the visit exerts political influence is unfounded. “We do not allow politicians in, because we are everyone’s home. Get rid of this silly directive,” he wrote the Education Corps.
According to leaders of a number of organizations dealing with pluralistic Jewish identity, no such directive was issued before the 2013 election, and the IDF Rabbinate is not bound by it. “From the IDF’s point of view, when an Orthodox rabbi lectures about the Sabbath, or when the IDF Rabbinate conducts activity about Jewish identity, this is not a political act,” a senior official at one organization said. “These people tell soldiers there is only one Judaism, and no one in the army has a problem with this but now, pluralistic organizations can’t talk about the Sabbath, Judaism or Israeli society. Secularism has become political. That’s absolutely absurd.”
Another official noted, “They are apparently afraid that one of the lecturers will say that Reform Jews should have equal rights, or that Israel should be a liberal country, and IDF officers might get confused. The army doesn’t want to get into conflict with the Military Rabbinate.”
The IDF Spokesman’s Office responded, “According to law and General Staff orders in the months before the election, no explanatory activities are to take place in the army, except on military, technical and scientific subjects, and Hebrew lessons. The educational agenda in IDF units during elections changes in accordance with this directive and the policy set by the chief education officer. This is in order to maintain the character of the IDF as the army of the people, in a Jewish and democratic state.” The policy “applies to all IDF units and commanders, including the Military Rabbinate.”