There's No Strike in the Vale of Tears

The person who is most troubled by the expected high-school teachers' strike does not work in the Education Ministry, the education department of a local authority or even for some parents' association.

The person who is most troubled by the expected high-school teachers' strike does not work in the Education Ministry, the education department of a local authority or even for some parents' association. Rather, he is in the Defense Ministry. That person is Avigdor Kahalani, who heads the ministry's military-social bureau. The strike threatens his life's work - Be'ikvot Lohamim ("in the footsteps of warriors"), under which 45,000 12th-graders are scheduled to set out, beginning on Thursday, for a 10-day hike in the Golan Heights, tracing the paths of Israel Defense Forces fighters in general and of Kahalani the warrior in particular.

After the teachers' union directed its members not to participate in Kahalani's project for the duration of the expected strike, he placed a large ad Wednesday in holiday-edition newspapers, which began: "Don't permit the teachers' strike to affect the future soldiers of the State of Israel!" The ad said the Defense Ministry had decided to make available to the schools hundreds of buses carrying reserve-duty officers and soldiers in compulsory service "in place of the striking teachers ... out of genuine concern that the project's cancelation would damage the motivation of thousands of future soldiers for meaningful army service." Kahalani had previously sent a similar written message to the director general of the Education Ministry, with copies to approximately half the world (the ministers of education and of defense, the IDF chief of staff, the heads of the teachers' union, etc.). All are charged with "preventing by any means possible" the cancelation of Kahalani's project "due to its importance."

Kahalani's public appeal, bearing the Defense Ministry official seal, is outrageous for every possible reason. First, it contains an explicit call to break a strike perceived as part of the union's struggle for the rights of its members. Kahalani determines sanctimoniously that he is not acting "from a desire to impair the strike," but in the same breath he does not hesitate to replace the strikers with reserve officers and even soldiers doing compulsory service.

By the same logic one could send the army to replace any group of striking workers, such as those at Ben-Gurion International Airport, who are slightly more important than Be'ikvot Lohamim. Second, the advertisement was paid for from the Defense Ministry's budget, in other words at the expense of the general public (including teachers).

In addition, two annoying messages, typical of the entire project, stand out in the advertisement - those of militarism and of arrogance. It is enough to read the pompous heading to see the problem. Kahalani does not relate to the students as if they were young citizens, 17-year-olds focused on their exams and the issues of adolescence.

For him they are all "future soldiers of the State of Israel." Every Jewish mother should be aware of the purpose for which she is raising her children. This is the source of the real damage caused by the teachers' strike, according to Kahalani's lights - not the harm done to studies and the daily routine, but rather the harm to the motivation of the soldiers of the future "for meaningful military service."

So much for issue of militarism; now we turn to arrogance. Kahalani is certain that the students' motivation for military service rises and falls on his project. To him, this is an essential national enterprise, without which Israeli youth are liable to fall in with the wrong, anti-patriotic crowd. The students must learn of Kahalani's heroism in the Golan's Vale of Tears in order not to fall into the Vale of Tears of draft-dodging. How much hubris is needed to compose such a message.

Indeed, Kahalani is the big star of B'ikvot Lohamim. To a certain extent, it is his own private ego trip (which followed a book and a documentary in which he memorialized for perpetuity his deeds in the Vale of Tears). The main event of the project is his lecture about the battle that earned him the Medal of Valor. During the 10 days of the trip he recites it dozens of times. In addition, the students get to see a live-fire and pyrotechnics display (including tank shells), visit exhibits representing the branches of the IDF as well as Kesem Hagolan in Katzrin, an exhibition that teaches them that the Golan Heights is all ours.

Kahalani's open letter provides an excellent opportunity to determine whether the issue at hand is the idealization of the army disguised as "activity that is entirely love for the homeland." Is it right to encourage identification by means of militaristic "action" stunts, to market the IDF like a consumer product and war as the realization of macho teen dreams? There is a good reason for rejecting Kahalani's initiative, at least until the matter can be clarified.