Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon harshly criticized his successor on Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for the latter’s decision to cancel volunteer activities by soldiers with the children of African asylum-seekers.
Speaking as a guest lecturer at the Israel Medical Convention in Jerusalem, Ya’alon said: “It is our obligation to assist the weak and needy in our society, to show compassion and involve them as much as possible. This is where the strength of a society manifests itself.”
Ya’alon said he “wouldn’t have expected to see headlines about the chief of staff being given leadership exercises in the media,” but instead would expect the defense minister to deal with other matters, Yaalon said to applause.
“National leadership must be statesmanlike and show restraint, to lead by personal example. National leadership requires that different parts of the population – religions, ethnic groups, sectors – not be torn apart. And it’s a pity, simply a pity, that they are trying to divide it in a way that might bring down the house on those who live in it.”
Earlier this week, Lieberman told senior IDF officers that the program with the NGO Elifelet – Citizens for Refugee Children, in which soldiers spend time playing with the children of asylum-seekers in public parks, should be canceled. “IDF soldiers would be better off acting according to the concept that ‘the poor of your own city take precedence’ and help Holocaust survivors, the needy and old people,” Lieberman said.
The commander of the IDF Intelligence Corps training base, a colonel, recently ordered the soldiers’ work with the asylum-seekers’ children be stopped in light of criticism by residents of south Tel Aviv, where many asylum-seekers live, and by right-wing activists.
At the same time, though, an IDF unit recently requested to do volunteer work with Elifelet.
About two weeks ago, soldiers from the Intelligence Corps base were volunteering with the children in a park in south Tel Aviv when Sheffi Paz, a prominent activist in the movement to evict asylum seekers from the neighborhood, documented the visit. She later posted on her Facebook page that she had contacted Deputy Defense Minister Ben-Dahan, who promised her that “these scenes will not be repeated.”
After Ben-Dahan turned to the IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF said it would review the list of organizations where soldiers are permitted to volunteer. Last week President Reuven Rivlin addressed the issue, saying: “It is no sin for IDF soldiers to extend help to children of desperate refugees.”
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