Opposition Slams Lieberman's 'Dangerous and Racist' Order to Bar Soldiers From Volunteering With African Kids

Coalition Knesset members back defense minister's decision to stop troops from aiding the offspring of asylum seekers.

A file photo of a kindergarten for asylum seekers' kids in south Tel Aviv, 2015.
Ariel David

Opposition lawmakers condemned on Sunday Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's order to cancel IDF volunteer work with the children of asylum seekers in Israel.

Lieberman rendered his decision following complaints by residents of south Tel Aviv who live in neighborhoods alongside African asylum seekers, and right-wing activists.He found that the volunteer work had stirred controversy, and felt Israeli soldiers should engage in activities within public consensus.

Mk Sheli Yacimovich (Labour) called the decision "immoral, non-Jewish, and hurts the army." She saw Lieberman's terminology as "dangerous and racist" and said the decision "discriminates against the children of people who fled for their lives and now live among us."

Former defense minister Amir Peretz (Labor) assailed the decision as "aimed at hiding the Israeli government's continued failed handling of south Tel Aviv neighborhoods, by pitting one group's suffering against another's."

"I am proud of those officers who chose to help children irrespective of their religion, race or gender, that is  how you build a strong society with values," Peretz said.

Michael Rozin (Meretz) called Lieberman's move "the lowliest kind of political intervention. He should be more concerned about the personal safety of Israeli citizens and keep his hands off the Israeli army's code of ethics."

Members of government coalition parties predictably applauded the decision.

MK Amir Ochana (Likud) called it "deplorable" for soldiers "recruited to defend the country to be kept busy with chores that have nothing to do with security, and with volunteering on behalf of infiltrators," using a term Israeli officials commonly use to describe African migrants, many of whom have gotten into the country by stealing across the Egyptian border.

Nava Boker (Likud) said soldier are drafted to defend Israeli citizens "and not for the benefit of infiltrators."

"The soldiers' activities are absurd, on the one hand the country is fighting against infiltration (of Africans) and on the other IDF soldiers are helping to absorb them into society," Boker said.

In issuing his decision, Lieberman said he believes the project the troops are involved with called "Citizens for Refugee Children," spending a few hours at a time with the children of asylum seekers in playgrounds, 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," the defense minister said.