Lieberman Orders to Cancel Soldiers' Volunteering With Children of Asylum Seekers in Israel

Defense minister says soldiers should engage in activities within the realm of public consensus, 'especially when in this case it involves activities with a population that isn’t residing here lawfully.'

Foreign migrant workers children watch an acrobat perform during the Purim festival in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, March 22, 2016.
AP

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman instructed to cancel the volunteering activities of IDF soldiers with the children of asylum seekers in Israel following complaints by residents of southern Tel Aviv and right-wing activists.

According to the defense minister, the volunteering has stirred controversy, and his bureau said that his decision was based on the idea that IDF soldiers should engage in activities within the realms of public consensus, "especially when in this case it involves activities with a population that isn’t residing here lawfully."

Lieberman clarified to senior IDF officials that he believes that volunteering with the charity Elifelet: Citizens for Refugee Children, during which soldiers play with the children of asylum seekers in playgrounds for a few hours, should be stopped. "It's more appropriate that IDF soldiers act according to the concept of 'the poor of your  city take precedence,' and help out Holocaust survivors, the needy and the elderly," according to the defense minister.

Last week, the commander of the Intelligence Corps training base instructed to suspend volunteering with the charity against the backdrop of criticism on behalf of the residents of southern Tel Aviv and right-wing activists.

Soldiers' volunteering with the children of asylum seekers doesn’t only take place within the framework of working with Elifelet, and soldiers and officers have also volunteered at the Bialik Rogozin school where the children of veteran Israelis, new immigrants, refugees and migrant workers study.

The army has placed soldier-teachers at the school, and soldiers from Military Intelligence's Unit 8200 volunteer with the older age groups there, teaching the children math, English and Hebrew. The IDF had previously boasted of the project, and published an article on the subject in its official website.

Following the criticism hurled at the IDF over the issue, IDF Chief Education Officer Brig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tzuk will soon define a list of organizations approved for volunteering. Lieberman's announcement, published on Sunday in Yedioth Ahronoth, comes on top of criticism by his deputy, MK Eli Ben-Dahan, and other right-wing lawmakers.

Some of the young asylum seekers reaching Israel have themselves asked to enlist in the IDF. MK Ofer Shelah responded to Lieberman's comments, calling them outrageous. "The children of asylum seekers are also the poor of our city. A realistic immigration policy should be upheld, and above all care should be taken of the residents of south Tel Aviv, where a large part of the illegal migration is channeled to. But the children and their parents are here, law and morality don’t allow taking them out of here."

Some two weeks ago soldiers from the Military Corps training base volunteered with the children at a playground in southern Tel Aviv. Sheffi Paz, a prominent activist in efforts to remove asylum seekers from south Tel Aviv, documented the visit. She later wrote on her Facebook page that she had contacted Ben-Dahan, saying that he had promised her that “those scenes will not be repeated.”

After Ben-Dahan turned to the army chief of staff, the IDF replied that the list of organizations where soldiers are permitted to volunteer would be reviewed. On Wednesday President Reuven Rivlin addressed the issue, saying: “It is no sin for IDF soldiers to extend help to children of desperate refugees.”