Hearts and Minds in the IDF

By the time it was clarified, the damage was done.

Dr. Moshe Dann,

OpEds לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: iStock

Prior to and during its incursion into Gaza to stop missile and rocket attacks from terrorists, Israel presented a
The soldiers told stories of murder and atrocities which could be considered war crimes.
relatively well-planned PR campaign to deflect criticism from the media and the international community. Enjoying nearly complete support from Israelis of all political sides, no one expected an attack from within.

On February 13, about a month after the Israel Defense Forces entered Gaza, Col. (res.) Danny Zamir, the director of the Yitzhak Rabin mechina, a pre-military program at Oranim College near Haifa, invited soldiers who had fought in Gaza to relate their experiences. Zamir, who opposes Israeli settlements and has been jailed for refusing to serve in Judea and Samaria, says he did not expect what happened.

The soldiers told stories of murder and atrocities which could be considered war crimes. Zamir contacted Chief of Staff Brig-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's office with the information and asked for clarification concerning questions of security. Four days later, on February 17, Briza, an Internet site of the mechina, published the stories. A day later, Zamir spoke with a reporter from Haaretz, and on February 19 the stories were published, followed by newspapers around the world - as evidence of Israeli brutality.

The IDF was vilified; Israel was shamed. There was only one problem: the stories weren't true. A thorough IDF investigation revealed that the soldiers had repeated what someone had told them, or had fabricated the stories themselves. A week later, some newspapers printed clarifications on back pages, but the damage had already been done.

Israelis were incensed. How could Zamir be in charge of an educational program that prepared young men for military service? Zamir insists that he did not intend to besmirch the IDF and that, despite political differences, he has a warm rapport with religious students and Brig.Gen. Avichai Ronski, the IDF's chief rabbi.

Dr. Moti Zeira, chairman of the board of the pre-military program at Oranim College declared his full support for Zamir: "We are proud of what Danny Zamir did; we believe in him and he will continue to direct the academy."

The Ministry of Education provides funding to 31 such mechina programs. "Each program is independent," said
Zamir feels he is being used by some in the media who want to attack the IDF.
spokeswoman Michal Zadoki. "We only give money and supervise the general program. We are not involved in the content," said Yohanan Ben Yaakov, the ministry official in charge of these programs.

In addition to public funds, these programs operate like NGOs, and must raise money from private sources in Israel and North America. Some leftists have called for dismantling the programs.

Zamir maintains that he was misquoted by reporters who portrayed him as anti-religious. "Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "I want to strengthen the morale of the IDF." Zamir feels he is being used by some in the media who want to attack the IDF.

Lost in what is portrayed as a struggle for control in the IDF between "nationalists" and "liberals", "religious" and "secularists", is the extent to which the IDF has become politicized and thereby weakened. Until recently, the religious fault line that runs through Israeli society avoided this most central and unique institution. Not anymore.