The army announced Monday that it would be dramatically reducing both the number of outside groups that it permits to educate soldiers and the topics they are allowed to discuss, in an apparent bid to depoliticize the military.
Over the years, the Israel Defense Forces has faced criticism from across the political spectrum for bringing in speakers that one side or the other finds unacceptable, along with accusations that the military was brainwashing the troops.
Most recently, right-wing groups railed against the army in 2016 for allowing lectures from the Shalom Hartman Institute and BINA Secular Yeshiva, which taught about religious pluralism, as the two groups received financial support from the left-leaning New Israel Fund.
This new measure is meant to put an end to these issues and distance the army from political debates.
There are currently 97 institutions — museums, organizations, lecturers — that have contracts with the army allowing them to give speeches and educational training on a variety of issues to conscripted soldiers. Under this new decision, that number would be cut to 15, a senior IDF officer told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In addition, the approved topics would be limited to: the memory of the Holocaust, military heritage, and healthy living, which would include anti-drug, anti-alcohol, road safety and gun safety education.
Any other topics will be taught to conscripted soldiers by internal army units, led by the IDF Education Corps, the senior official said.
These topics as well will be restricted to noncontroversial and apolitical issues dealing with agreed-upon military and societal values, like building personal strength and understanding the importance of the chain of command, according to the officer.
Senior IDF officers may still hear lectures from groups besides the 15 approved ones and on topics besides those mentioned above, but this will be on a case by case basis, he said.
“The commander is an educator, and we want them to stand at the forefront of the education effort, and not to rely on other groups in this field,” the officer said.
This move was based on a letter sent by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in 2016, in which he noted “it is clear that the education of the soldier is the responsibility of the commander, and that it is their obligation to fulfill this educational responsibility, to strengthen the warrior spirit and to hold conversations about values with his subordinates.”
This decision was made following extensive discussion among relevant groups within the army. It was presented to representatives from the 97 previously approved institutions during a conference on Sunday, the officer said.