Israel's Right-wing Education Minister Introduces Program to Encourage Combat Enlistment

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Israeli army paratroopers during an exercise, April 3, 2017.
Israeli army paratroopers during an exercise, April 3, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Education Minister Naftali Bennett presented a new program on Tuesday to increase motivation for army enlistment among high school students, particularly into combat units. The program, with an overall budget of 80 million shekels, is designed to expand activities for preparation for the Israel Defense Forces in and out of schools.

The target is to double the number of participants in the preparatory programs, from about 5,000 to 10,000. The initiatives include Zahala, which focuses on at-risk teens, Haderekh Hahadasha (The New Way), which integrates those with Ethiopian roots into military service, Ofek, which operates a six-month pre-army institute, and others.

The program, which will begin this year, was created by a professional team headed by the director general of the Education Ministry, in cooperation with the Defense Ministry and the army. It is designed “to strengthen the connection between the schools and the IDF and the students’ identity and their connection to the IDF.”

Bennett added that “along with excellence in achievements in math and English, the Education Ministry is working to teach Zionist values. Therefore I instructed the school system to cooperate with the IDF and the Defense Ministry in a program to increase motivation to serve in combat units. In the 70th year of the state, service in the IDF is not only an ordinary civic obligation but also a great privilege and a top national mission.”

As part of the program, combat bases will work with educational institutions in order to strengthen the students’ desire for “significant” service. The units will host the students and introduce them to the activity on the base, while the schools will host officers and soldiers who will talk to the students about “battle heritage.” Joint ceremonies will be held on Memorial Day. In addition, officers will speak to 11th- and 12th-graders before enlistment and “tell them about their personal combat service [to] be a source of inspiration.” Senior officers will also speak to the teaching staff.

In response to increasing demand from the schools, the Education Ministry will up the number of schools participating in Gadna Week, which prepares the students for military service, with 30,000 11th-graders participating instead of 20,000.

As part of the program, 180 local councils will expand their army preparatory activities. During the school day, at least eight hours will be devoted to discussions prior to enlistment, and in the afternoon there will be activities “to create leadership” for 10th- to 12th-graders. The number of preparation centers for military service in the local councils will be doubled to 73 within a year, and will reach 180 within five years.

In addition, 12th-graders in the south of the country will participate in Day in the Footsteps of Fighters, intended to encourage combat service. Until now, it took place annually in the Golan Heights. The number of teacher-soldiers preparing teenagers for enlistment will increase from 400 to 500 within a year, and to 700 in five years.