The Israel Defense Forces has instructed its units to stop accepting offers of free weekend educational programs, a move aimed at increasing supervision of the Military Rabbinate, which had been offering units such programs at no cost or at minimal cost.
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IDF units regularly receive suggestions for educational programming from both the rabbinate and the Education Corps. The Education Corps funds most of the programming itself, but asks the units to pay for transporting, feeding or housing the soldiers. The Military Rabbinate, on the other hand, would offer full or almost full funding for the entire package, aided by donations it receives for this purpose. This tended to influence which programs units would send their soldiers to, a finding noted in a state comptroller’s report.
The IDF has decided that starting in July, donations can no longer be accepted to fund educational activities. Every unit will be asked to pay for any weekend activities, and organizations that had previously donated the educational programming to military units will now be paid for them – an estimated 200 shekels ($53) per participant.
It was also decided that any civilian organization offering to conduct any educational program for military units, including lectures, seminars and tours, will have to go through one Education Corps service center. Until now education staffers were allowed to arrange activities either through the Education Corps or the Military Rabbinate.
Aside from the desire of senior officers to make some order in the matter of donations to the IDF, military sources say this change in policy is aimed at assuring that the contents of these programs are politically neutral.
Since the beginning of this month, the IDF’s Jewish Identity branch, which had been subordinate to the Military Rabbinate, is now subordinate to the Manpower Directorate. This move, which was fought bitterly by rabbis and politicians, was aimed at increasing the oversight of military activities in this area. This new decision will further tighten supervision over Jewish identity education in the IDF.
A 2012 state comptroller’s report criticized the acceptance of donations for educational activities in the army. The report stated that this “is a most fundamental issue, which directly influences the scope of the educational activities that actually take place and the units’ decision-making process when they must choose between activities proposed by the Education Corps and those suggested by the Military Rabbinate.”
In the army itself there were also those who complained about the process, arguing that the acceptance of contributions for these programs ended up influencing the choice of where soldiers went for educational weekends, and that the groups offering the free programming were predominantly Orthodox and right-wing.
Chief Education Officer Brig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tzuk had previously told YNET that it is hard for him “to compete with activities that are offered to the units for free.” He added that if a commander had the choice of a free activity or one that would cost money, the commander would go “to the tour that the rabbi suggests, because it doesn’t cost anything.”
The IDF spokesman said, “In accordance with the IDF’s vision of itself as a national army, it was decided to change the way educational weekends in the IDF operate. In this context, all lecturers will participate in activities only after they’ve been approved by the competent authority in the IDF. The commanders will be the ones leading the activities and they will provide guidance regarding what issues they want the activity to address, maintaining a balance without sliding into political discussions. Educational weekends will be funded from a designated military budget, and not from targeted donations, to prevent the involvement of donors in the content. Similarly, it was decided that all educational activities in the IDF will be coordinated by an educational service center.”