In Our New Sparta, the Militant Brainwashing Starts at 11

Israel's testosterone-happy generals are inculcating their legacy of mostly needless operations to fifth-graders. The results? Maybe by 18 they won't ask any questions.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Ceremony at the end of the IDF officers' course. The Locker Committee calls for changing conditions related to career soldiers' pensions.
Ceremony at the end of the IDF officers' course. The Locker Committee calls for changing conditions related to career soldiers' pensions.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

This was how the assignments got split up: A. got Operation Poisonous Sting; M. got Operation Noa, T. was given Operation Spring of Youth, while Y. received Operation Yad L’achim and Y. landed Operation Wooden Leg. A. received Operation Elem Hamudot, N. Operation Opera, and A. Operation Rooster 53. And little Yonatan, who contrary to the children’s song, was no longer playing in the park in the morning, was assigned Operation Shirat Hatsaftsefah, of all operations.

What was Operation Shirat Hatsafsefa, (“The song of the whistle”), I asked him the day before yesterday in my ignorance after he blessed the challah at a family meal. What do you mean what was it? It was a military operation in Ansariya. Where is Ansariya? In Lebanon, Yonatan replied authoritatively. What happened there? The Shayetet disaster.

Yonatan was already hastening to his bedroom and returning with his two-page essay written in pencil, which he read to us as we sat around the table. This was the most major disaster in the history of Shaeyet 13, the little military historian recited, referring to a special operations unit of the Israel Navy.

Yonatan is a wise and sweet boy of 11, a fifth-grader at a north Tel Aviv elementary school. The young man who is his classroom teacher, who left the high-tech field to go into teaching, passed out the assignment list, every child getting a top-secret operation (or in some cases a war) at the teacher’s individual initiative, in the spirit of the Adopt a Fallen Soldier program started by Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Only one brave mother tried to protest: “Is this for real? Have the children been drafted into an Israel Defense Forces officers’ course?” she asked on the WhatsApp text message group for the class, but not a single parent joined her in objecting. “In my opinion, it’s an important subject that is worth delving into more deeply,” said one father. The teacher asked for six lines per operation. Yonatan wrote two pages because he thought Operation Shirat Hatsaftsefa could not be covered in less.

These little military historians were asked who can retell the things that befell us, in the words of the Hanukkah song. We don’t need Naftali Bennett for that. That’s how they trained us in our distant childhoods before the education minister was even born. But that was a different time. It’s not too much to expect a country and society to mature a bit since. It’s true that most of these secret operations, including the infantile names that they were given, were sufficiently juvenile to make them appropriate for 11-year-olds, but this militarist brainwashing could have waited.

Some of these military operations were real war crimes, involving murders, assassinations and kidnapping, a clear majority of which had been unnecessary. Only a very small number, if any, were essential to Israel’s security and most on final balance were detrimental to the country. They precipitated revenge operations, rage and hatred. The heirs of the assassination and kidnapping targets were generally more radical than their predecessors.

After all, what came from the brave assassination hit in 1988 in Tunisia on Fatah leader Abu Jihad, other than a few more moments of praise for “the unit” after the life of Yasser Arafat’s most fitting successor was cut short, another potential peace partner wiped out? And what resulted from Operation Wooden Leg, the bombing of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s command center in Tunisia in 1985? And Poison Sting and “Elem Hamudot,” the two unnecessary abductions of Mustafa Dirani and Abdel Karim Obeid? And Rooster 53, which at the time was considered the most daring of the operations? That’s when an Egyptian radar station was picked up and taken to Israel to humiliate the Egyptians.

Good going IDF. Truth be told, these brave operations were mostly meant to satisfy the adventurousness and the testosterone of the young wannabes who participated in them: Ehud Barak got dressed up as a woman. They also cost unnecessary casualties on the Israeli side, in Shirat Hatsaftsefa, for example. The spirit of these operations has not disappeared and their true costs have never been added up. If you just saw the misty-eyed gaze that Channel 2’s Ilana Dayan laid on Meir Dagan, the late Mossad espionage agency director, in his last interview, when he recounted his exploits to her.

Now they are inculcating their legacy to children as young as 11. That’s a good age to start working at the incessant brainwashing here, in Israel’s Sparta. If they start at 11, by 18, they will find volunteers for the next Operation Spring of Youth. If they start at 11, by 18, no one will ask unnecessary questions. Such is the spring of youth of Yonatan, my beloved nephew, a spring of youth that is messianic and depressing.

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