Debate over Israeli Army's Role in School ; Israeli Army Is Launching a Program to Have Lieutenant Colonels Interact with High School Students

Article excerpt

For Kerem Blumberg, a high school senior uncomfortable with what she says has been a marked increase in class time devoted to discussing army values, a talk given by a brigadier general last week was cause for protest.

She and three other students chained themselves to the auditorium fence and brought a sign: "No entry to the army."

"We think we have every right to fully matriculate without being in a premilitary course," says Ms. Blumberg, a student at Tel Aviv Urban Aleph School, known for a high rate of draft avoidance.

The student protest comes at a time of mounting controversy over "The Coming Generation," a program launched by the army and Israel's Education Ministry, which assigns a lieutenant colonel to interact with students at each of 70 participating high schools. If deemed successful, the program could significantly expand next year.

Program backers say it will help instill crucial values such as the pursuit of excellence and service to the community and state. But critics say it's an attempt at indoctrination.

The debate reflects a larger struggle here to define what role the army should have in a society that defines itself as Western and liberal. After five wars, Israel remains today one of the most militarized societies in the world - a situation, some say, that is no longer justified.

"There is no act threatening the very existence of Israel and we do not need to be a mobilized nation," says Gaby Solomon, a former dean of Haifa University's Education Faculty.

Program supporters, however, say Israel still faces a threat to its survival.

"You can't say 'no entry to the army.' This is our army and it is fighting for our lives in the face of those who desire to eradicate us," says Melli Pollishook-Bloch, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee.

Former army officers wield enormous clout in Israeli politics. Israel's last two elections pitted former generals against each other. Military background is often an important factor in gaining employment. …

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