A controversial decision to end a volunteering program for IDF soldiers with children of migrants in south Tel Aviv came directly from Defense Minster Avigdor Liberman, reported Yedioth Ahronoth Sunday.
Liberman was said to have personally called IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot last week and ordered him to put an immediate end to the program. “If soldiers have free time, they should help Holocaust survivors or the needy,” he reportedly told the Israel Defense Forces chief. “Charity should begin at home.”
The decision came after Channel 10 reported last week that a number of soldiers serving in Military Intelligence had been doing volunteer work with the Elifelet organization, which helps migrant children in south Tel Aviv.
The report sparked complaints by some Jewish residents of south Tel Aviv neighborhoods — who have long complained of the influx of poverty-stricken, mainly African foreigners in their neighborhoods — who voiced anger at the soldiers’ actions, accusing them of effectively working for a “radical left-wing” group and backing illegal immigration.
Elifelet is a nonprofit organization that says it helps hundreds of children from migrant families who are suffering from “different levels of hunger and physical distress due to poverty.” It aims to provide food and care for such children. It also claims to protect migrant kids from “racial persecution.”
President Reuven Rivlin expressed support for the volunteer program following last week’s report, saying during a swearing-in ceremony for new judges: “It is not a sin… for Israeli soldiers to lend a hand to the helpless, such as the children of refugees whose parents may well have broken Israeli law by entering illegally, for various reasons.”
But, he said, “the children are not to blame.”