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New Profile in IsraŽl

27-5-2019 New Profile, een feministische en anti-militaristische organisatie in IsraŽl, stuurde ons een uitgebreid verslag van de ontwikkelingen in IsraŽl. Ze tonen zich bezorgd over de verrechtsing, het toenemend militarisme en de onderdrukking van andere meningen. Hoe treurig ook, het motiveert hen om met extra inzet voort te gaan met hun werk.


Updates on militarism and silencing of critical voices in Israel:

On the latest general elections: The general elections in Israel resulted in what is going to be a coalition government, led for the 5th time by Benjamin Netanyahu and composed of right-wing and extreme right-wing parties. It is most likely that this government will continue with the same policies that we saw in the past: the oppression of Palestinians; expansion of settlements; increased militarism and undermining peaceful alternatives; strengthening ties with other right-wing leaders such as Trump, Putin and Orban; and a Minister of Education, Justice and Culture that will continue promoting anti-democratic policies.

In the newly elected Israeli parliament, out of 120 representatives, only 29 are women (compared to 36 women in the previous Knesset) and 10 are former army generals. As described by Orly Noy here, 26 of the parliamentarians are in their 30s. Perhaps that would be a source of hope. However, in Israel, young people are more religious, conservative and right-wing than their peers in other countries. According to a new study on voting trends in Israel, 64.3% of young Israelis between the ages of 18-29 voted for right-wing parties. In the 30-55 age group, only 54.9% voted for the same parties. Another interesting aspect that Noy highlights is that just under half of the members of the 21st Knesset were born after June 1967, when Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. What sort of democratic consciousness can develop living their entire lives in such a reality? The young members of Knesset are arriving at the gates of parliament after a life of political indoctrination in which Israel's control of a Palestinian population is recognized as a fact of life, a kind of natural state of existence.

On militarisation of academia - In January, an Israeli TV channel "exposed" a recorded conversation between a student, who is also an army officer and attends class in army uniform, and a university professor, Dr. Carola Hilfrich from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the conversation, the student complained about a Palestinian student criticizing her for wearing army uniform to class. Hilfrich responded that the student can not wear the uniform and expect at the same time to be treated as a civilian and that she needs to respect the values of those who prioritize a civil society. Following the broadcasting of this story, a Likud party minister called upon the university to hold a disciplinary hearing for the teacher. In addition, the teacher received threats to her life. The Hebrew University published an add in several newspapers with the title "Students in army uniform? Welcome!" expressing support of all students and teachers who serve in the military and also apologizing for the incident.

A few days later, the online magazine "Local Call" discovered that the student soldier was part of the "Im Tirzu" right-wing group that was quick to call for the firing of Dr. Hilfrich and to organize a demonstration in front of the university campus. It became clear that the entire incident was orchestrated by "Im Tirzu", a well-known right-wing racist organization that has been targeting university lecturers and civil society organizations for their left-wing political views. New Profile sent a letter of support to Dr. Hilfrich and published a response on our Facebook page.

This incident reflects not only the growing witch-hunt of critical academics, artists and activists but also how civil institutions such as the Hebrew University play a critical role in legitimizing militarization. This becomes all the more evident through a report by "Local Call" online magazine about the announcement of the Hebrew University that 150 soldiers from an elite Intelligence unit will study in its Middle East Studies department. This means that about 40% of the students in this department will be soldiers. In addition, the university will enable the soldiers to live on campus in a closed military area. The "Academia for Equality" group strongly condemned this plan: "This is expropriation of academic space by turning it into a military base, which is operated according to hierarchical principles, very different from the values of academia. In addition, it will favor soldiers who are from strong socio-economic backgrounds, instead of increasing opportunities for students from less privileged and historically neglected populations".

Interesting stories from the Israel Social TV related to militarism (with English subtitles):

- On how manhood is shaped in relation to the army.

- A young woman who refused to join the army met with her Palestinian teacher.

- About the petition to the High Court of Justice against the unequal process of granting women an exemption from drafting on the basis of freedom of conscience for religious reasons as opposed to non-religious reasons.

Our Counseling Network

Since the beginning of 2019, about 400 youth have turned to our network for assistance, regarding exemption from military service. 21 youth received legal aid. 27 volunteers are part of the network, supporting the youth who seek help.

Besides the support provided to youth, the Counseling Network became an important framework for regular meetings for training and exchange on counseling specific issues. In addition, these meetings also offer the opportunity for volunteers to study and discuss the political and social aspects of their work in a broader context. Daniel, the Network Coordinator created a small library with books about militarism, refusal, feminism, the occupation and more, which he brings to the meetings and lends them to the volunteers to increase their knowledge and understanding of these topics.

In 2019 we initiated a new online survey for individuals who were assisted by the network. In addition to their feedback on the quality of support that they got from us, we wanted to learn about the political impact of this process on them and on their social circles. So far 15 people answered we intend to collect the responses of at least 40 people in 2019. Here are some of the initial results on the social and political impact of their experience:

* 38.5% answered that they changed their opinions and no longer think that everybody should serve in the army (the rest believed also prior to their experience that not everyone should serve in the military).

* 23% answered that they shared their story and talked about New Profile with others in their family and social circles because they believe it is an important message. 69% wrote that they shared their story in some cases. 8% wrote that they think they would not be understood in their social circles.

* 77% answered that their friends and family were influenced by their decision to seek an exemption and are now more in favor of it.

* 46% wrote that they would be interested in joining political activity related to anti-militarism.

More than 500 individuals received copies (hard copies or online) of our booklet "The Day after Exemption" which provides information about civil options for youth including national civil service, subsidized housing and education, professional training, etc. The booklet was recently updated with new information. We finished translating it to Arabic, uploaded it to our website and shared it with Urfud organization that supports Druze draft resisters.

Our anti-militarist educational and outreach work

In 2019 we continue to develop our Teachers' Forum. Meetings of teachers are taking place in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In the meetings, teachers are exposed to articles and films about critical political education and militarism, which they discuss. Teachers share their difficulties in the current political climate, talking about fears, self-censorship and on how they are able to hold critical discussions with their students in spite of it. In Haifa, the teachers worked together with our education coordinator on a lesson plan that they could use in their schools in May, when the Holocaust Memorial Day, the Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers and Independence Day take place. Such days are filled with glorification of the military and emphasize the absolute necessity of militarism as the only option to meet past and present threats. The teachers in our group looked for materials that bring a more humanistic and complex approach to wars, the Holocaust and related issues.

New Profile initiated at the end of 2018 a new Forum of Education Coordinators from NGOs that promote Human Rights and an end to the Occupation (including Zochrot, Breaking the Silence, Sadaka-Reut, Combatants for Peace, ACRI and more). The Forum aims to work together to counter the attempts to silence critical political voices in the Education System. The forum meets regularly and created a joint website (in Hebrew) that offers tours and workshops to the general public. The forum also started a closed Facebook group for teachers, where materials and ideas on critical education are shared. So far 88 people joined the group and it is quite active. New Profile's education and outreach coordinators share materials on this online page. In January, the forum sent a protest letter to the head of a pre-military gap year program, because he suspended a teacher, following a critical political post that he published on his private Facebook page. The teacher was allowed to come back to work. He sent the forum a letter, thanking them for their solidarity and highlighting how helpful it was in changing the mind of his boss.

Tal, our education coordinator in a workshop that was conducted in a community center in Tel Aviv, February 2019.

We are continuing to work on a guide to social workers about military service as a risk factor, which we aim to complete in 2019 and to share with social workers and other mental health professionals. The guide will discuss issues such as desertion due to economic hardship; imprisonment conditions; mental health issues, trauma and suicide; and sexual assaults. It will take a closer look at the specific experiences and difficulties encountered by youth originated from Ethiopia and the Caucasus in their military service. The guide will challenge the prevailing myth that sees the military service as a 'melting pot and social equalizer' and will present a soberer look of reality - that the military service can cause significant mental, psychological and/or economic damage while maintaining and reproducing existing inequalities in Israeli society.

We are grateful to our donors:

American Friends Service Committee

Bread for the World

British Shalom-Salaam Trust

HaElla Foundation

Karibu Foundation

Lush Charity Pot

Mennonite Central Committee

Palšstina--Friedensstiftung Rachel Corrie

Private donor

Radley Charitable Trust

Refuser Solidarity Network

Women's World Day of Prayer

Bron: New Profile