With a “good old boy” southern accent and a cheerily named organization, the head of the “Hershey’s for Heroes” organization has been disseminating anti-Islamic and Evangelical Christian sentiments on a regular basis to soldiers on IDF bases, apparently with the army’s sanction.
Most recently, Michael Ganoe, who runs the aforementioned group, spoke with a group of soldiers — teachers in the army’s Education and Youth Corps — who had gathered in a community center in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam for a day of lectures on December 16.
Ganoe, who regularly hands out chocolate bars to soldiers at bus stations, shopping malls and even on IDF bases, was the last speaker of the day.
His speech in Bat Yam did not deviate from his standard fare — heaps of praise for the IDF mixed with anti-Muslim sentiments — though it was perhaps more subtle than his Facebook posts.
“He started talking about how much he loves the Jewish people, how Israel is great and how America loves Israel,” one soldier said. “But if you listened in between the lines, you could hear the problematic things that he was saying.”
Ganoe, for instance, applauded the IDF’s “fight against Islam” since Islam, he claimed, was “the root of the world’s evil,” the participant said — not Islamic extremists or Islamic extremism, but the entire religion.
Though there were no Muslim soldiers in the room, Ganoe’s claims may have been a shock to the approximately 1,500 Muslims, mostly Bedouin, who serve in the IDF.
“At the end, I wanted to go up and speak to him and ask him, ‘What the heck?'” said the soldier, who found Ganoe’s remarks to be offensive and upsetting.
Some of the people present at the event tried to understand Ganoe’s comments as condemnations of “the bad Muslims,” not Islam as a whole, the soldier said, but a glance at the Hershey’s for Heroes Facebook page reveals Ganoe’s true intention.
“Mohammed was a blood-thirsty, child-raping, self-appointed false prophet. The Koran is a lie. There is no Allah,” he posted on the Hershey’s for Heroes Facebook page on the same day he addressed the Education Corps soldiers.
Who invited Michael Ganoe?
The army claims that Ganoe was not invited to speak at the December event, but merely happened to stumble across the lecture held at a community center in Bat Yam.
“He wasn’t at all invited,” an IDF spokesperson said. “He just happened, by chance, to pass by there and asked if he could say something about his organization.”
The IDF could not say how exactly Ganoe came across the closed IDF event at a random building in the Tel Aviv suburb in the middle of the afternoon. One of the commanders in charge of the event, however, allowed Ganoe on stage, the spokesperson said.
Ganoe also would not comment on how he found out about the event or whether he was explicitly invited to speak.
“But the minute he said anything political, they stopped him,” the IDF spokesperson said.
Another soldier at the event speech said one of the commanders did eventually whisper to Ganoe that he should finish speaking, but he was at no point in time cut off.
“They didn’t shoo him off the stage or anything,” said the soldier offended by Ganoe’s remarks. “He spoke, and then he just gave everyone chocolate.”
Not every soldier in the crowd understood Ganoe’s English, but they did understand the candy, the soldier said.
The IDF ordinarily checks who is giving donations to its soldiers — even candy bars — before they can be received, but since this was something “informal and uncoordinated,” the IDF did not investigate Ganoe’s organization at all, the army spokesperson said.
Invitations to bases all over the country
But this was not Ganoe’s first encounter with the army’s Education Corps. In August, he met with a group of army instructors — soldiers who educate other soldiers about Judaism and Zionism as part of the IDF’s Nativ program — on their base. He spoke for at least half an hour, telling them to be proud of their Jewish identities and lauding Israel.
But in the middle of his praise, he also mentioned to the army educators that he wished the Dome of the Rock would be blown up.
“In the 1990s we watched the First Gulf War,” Ganoe told the soldiers. “We watched the Scud missiles coming from Iran (sic). And we hoped and prayed that one of those Scud missiles would hit the Dome of the Rock so that you could rebuild the Temple.”
The soldiers laughed at Ganoe’s anecdote, perhaps not realizing he was expressing an Evangelical Christian belief that the Jewish Temple must be rebuilt in order to bring about the second coming of Jesus Christ.
At the end of Ganoe’s visit, he had the soldiers shout his organization’s name for a video, holding their candy. They laugh, good-naturedly embarrassed that they will appear on his active Facebook page.
Anti-Muslim statements like the one quoted above are interspersed on his Facebook page, between selfies and pictures of smiling soldiers who have just received chocolate.
“I get invited to bases all over the country and give the soldiers Hersheys for Heroes and speak to them from a non-Jewish, American perspective of how America and the world needs Israel, Israel does not need America and the world,” Ganoe told The Times of Israel about his organization.
The IDF refused to comment on who invited Ganoe to speak to the IDF’s Education Corps teachers in August or how he has managed to gain access to such a wide variety of army bases around the country.
The army also refused to comment on whether the IDF as a public body agrees with Ganoe’s views on Islam and the Dome of the Rock.