Thursday, October 23, 2008

IDF - Brainwashing or Jewish Education?

Haaretz reports:

The Chief Military Rabbinate has recently expanded its educational activities in IDF combat units, and in doing so has entered areas previously served only by the Education Corps. Many commanders accept offers of such programs since the rabbinate pays for these activities, while the units must foot the bill for events run by the Education Corps.

The Chief Military Rabbinate's behavior "harms the delicate fabric of relations between the nonreligious and religious in the IDF," a senior officer told Haaretz. "In a number of cases it is religious brainwashing and, indirectly, also political [brainwashing]," said the officer.

IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, ordered an investigation of the matter this week and requested to redraw the "borders" between the rabbinate and Education Corps.

The Military Rabbinate has been conducting such programs for years but has greatly stepped up its activities during the past year. One of the main reasons is economic: Non-profit organizations and religious citizens have been contributing money via Libi - The Fund for Strengthening Israel's Defense. The contributions are earmarked for specific purposes, in this case the rabbinate's educational activities. The sums are significant, and give the rabbinate an advantage over the Education Corps.

Most of the controversial activities are organized by the "Jewish Awareness Department" in the Military Rabbinate, headed by Lt. Col. Zadok (Duki) Ben-Artzi, a former Air Force navigator who became religiously observant. The unit was established in the days of former IDF Chief Rabbi, Brig. Gen. Yisrael Weiss, and was called the "Combat Values branch." However, after Haaretz reported on the activities of the unit in 2001, its name was changed to Jewish Awareness and the IDF announced it would supervise the unit's activities more closely.

Now, it turns out, that its programs have expanded greatly under the command of the present IDF Chief Rabbi, Brig. Gen. Rabbi Avichai Ronski, who assumed his position in 2006. The slogan for the programs is "Jewish awareness for a victorious IDF." Ben-Artzi describes his goal as "strengthening the combat spirit and [sense of] mission in military service."

Ben-Artzi operates a telephone call center for units and offers services that are clearly under the purview of the Education Corps, such as programs and information on historic battles of the IDF and learning about the land of Israel. The unit offers to organize activities and programs "based on biblical sources, appropriate for all soldiers and commanders, also for those who do not come from a religious background," states one of its brochures. "The Jewish Awareness unit specializes in organizing the activities from start to finish," it states.

The unit circulates a number of publications, including a booklet for "commanders from a Jewish viewpoint," and one for combat soldiers "to strengthen their spirit before battle." The unit also offers advice and help in writing and updating materials for courses, including integrating programs and materials on Jewish awareness in the courses. It also offers seminars and conferences all over the country.

In particular, it hosts IDF units weekends and, the jewel in the crown, a Shabbat in Jerusalem. The free weekend is something which the Education Corps cannot compete with.

It operates these weekends in close coordination with the right wing Elad non-profit organization, which works to expand Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and, in particular, in the village of Silwan.

A senior officer told Haaretz: "The temptation on the part of a battalion commander is great. From his point of view, he is getting a weekend for forging group spirit for the battalion, at the price of only a few hours of discussion with the rabbi. Every commander wants to strengthen values, and some of the commanders are religious and, in any case, agree with the Chief Military Rabbi. Few are aware of the nuances, or are aware that religious and nationalistic preaching is entering through the backdoor. This is a gross invasion of the Education Corps area, which does not approve the content and the exploitation of soldiers, who are a captive audience, coming for the Sabbath under orders. Ronski and his subordinates are breaking the status quo operating in the IDF from the days of Ben-Gurion," said the officer. [...]


  1. I think the Rabanut does a great job with its education programs, and really helps people understand their religion.

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