Israeli Military to Scrap Preparatory Course for Soldiers of Ethiopian Background

IDF course exclusively for Ethiopian community to be replaced by program for all soldiers requiring remedial assistance.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers. Illustrative photo.
Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers. Illustrative photo. Credit: Moti Milrod
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israel Defense Forces’ Amir course, which is designed to prepare draftees of Ethiopian background for their military service, will be discontinued in 2017 following objections from the members of the Ethiopian community and from social justice organizations. The IDF intends instead to develop a new course, called “Kelim” (“Tools”), for soldiers of all backgrounds who have scored poorly in army evaluations and are in need of remedial assistance.

An email announcing the closure of the Amir course, effective with the class of recruits entering the IDF in August 2017, has been sent to a large number of young people in the Ethiopian community. Amir has aimed at providing preparatory course work to lay the groundwork for placing soldiers from the community whose army evaluation scores tend to be low into positions that are considered high-quality roles.

There are those within the Ethiopian community and in the IDF who have argued, however, that the existence of a course limited to soldiers of a specific background constitutes an inappropriate discriminatory policy. Criticism has also been leveled at the fact that the course has the involvement of the Feuerstein Institute, which focuses on diagnosis and treatment of learning disabilities and is responsible for “re-diagnosis” of soldiers in advance of their army placement.

“There are people who need something at the beginning of their [military] service, whether they are from the [Ethiopian] community or another population group,” a senior officer in the IDF’s Personnel Directorate said on Wednesday, in reference to the new Kelim course.

The officer welcomed the plan to “dispense with diagnoses.” She predicted that over time the new approach would lead to excellent results, adding that soldiers of Ethiopian background already make a major contribution to the IDF.

In the future, the plan is to approach members of the Ethiopian community to participate in pre-army course work on an individual basis. The IDF is also seeking to boost the number of officers of Ethiopian background by 25 percent and the number of soldiers from the community who are placed in special programs combining army service and university studies by 15 percent.

In addition, as of next month there will be mandatory study of racism and prejudice in commanders’ courses, from those training to lead IDF squad units to those at the level of brigadier general.

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