The Israeli government is funding programmes for Israeli youths, some as young as 16-years-old, which combine military training with nationalist indoctrination, managed by an army veteran with links to the radical Right.
The Tavor Academy for Social Leadership, located in Nazareth Illit in the Galilee, has been hailed by a senior Ministry of Defense official as one of the best academies of its kind. More than 200 young Jewish Israelis participate in Tavor’s different programmes, “absorbing the values of Zionism, dedication to the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces.”
Focused on “working to cultivate Zionist leadership”, Tavor is reportedly “one of the most popular” pre-army programmes among 40 registered across the country. Many of its graduates go on to serve in “elite IDF units.“
Tavor’s vision describes “national fortitude” as “the spirit that animates matter”, and praises the importance of “social unity and emotional resiliency.” For Tavor, the “post-modernist beliefs” of Israel’s “secular elite” have “weakened the importanceof the Jewish-Zionist identity.”
The Zionist identity of our people in general and our future leaders in particular has become weak, directionless, and unable to sustain Israel’s core essence; its soul. A silent majority and its leaders have grown less and less interested in the Israeli society as a whole, its history, morality and its Jewish spirit.
Participants are subject to “early wake-up calls, 10-kilometer morning runs, lessons in martial arts for the male students, navigation and survival exercises”, a schedule of “fitness…and combat training” all part of “preparations for IDF service.”
Tavor also runs “Keshet”, a programme for 16-18 year olds designed to “revive their Zionist spark.” Dozens of teenagers are recruited, and put through “physical and mental activities such as hiking, touring, navigating, rappelling, studying and learning with professionals of different fields.”
Tellingly, the initiative to establish Tavor came from the then-mayor of Nazareth Illit, Shimon Gapso (currently embroiled in legal proceedings). Gapso contacted the founder and director Amichai Shikli while the latter was completing an MA at Tel Aviv University, and asked him to help the city “with its social and demographic challenges.” The Tavor academy, established in 2010, was the result.
Those “challenges” included “a decrease in a once strong population” and “a weakened Jewish character.” That same year, Mayor Gapso described the city’s plan for growth as “predicated chiefly on maintaining the city’s Jewish character and encouraging educational, Zionist initiatives.”
According to the mayor, “it is time to call a spade a spade. Just as Ben-Gurion and Peres said in the 1950s that the Galilee must be Jewish, we say the same about Nazareth Illit: It must retain its Jewish character…The primary goal is to put the brakes on the demographic deterioration.”
Shikli is an Israeli army veteran who spent five years in the Golani Brigade, a year as a combat officer in the Shayetet 13 naval commando unit, and a year as a company commander in the Egoz special unit. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of Im Tirtzu, an extreme right-wing group that in 2013 was deemed by an Israeli judge to have fascistic attributes
According to the organisation’s annual report, almost a third of its budget – around $400,000 from a total US$1.3 million – comes from national and local government. This includes just under a quarter of a million dollars from Israel’s Ministry of Education (currently headed by Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett), as well money from the Ministry of Defense, and Nazareth Illit municipality.
Israeli elementary schools are increasingly holding student graduation ceremonies at “military memorials and other sites with blood-drenched histories.” Criticising the phenomenon, one early childhood education expert said: “I don’t think that in sixth grade, the value ought to be militarist, or one that sanctifies death.” Another academic described it as “a kind of indoctrination.”
Israel and its international allies often claim that Palestinian children are ‘taught to hate’ – as if living under a brutal military occupation isn’t a good enough teacher. Little is said, however, about the militaristic nationalism fed to Jewish Israeli school children, preparing them for their time enforcing that same occupation.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.