Troops ready­ing for dis­charge – and trips – be­ing trained as ‘am­bas­sadors’

Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By ANNA AHRONHEIM

A new pro­gram to train soonto-be-dis­charged sol­diers how to pro­mote Is­rael on their post-army trip has been im­ple­mented by the IDF in pre-dis­charge work­shops.

The pro­gram, called “IS­RAEL-Is,” was es­tab­lished by three vet­er­ans of elite IDF units with the sup­port of the De­fense Min­istry and IDF. It has al­ready trained some 7,000 sol­diers in its first year, founder Eyal Bi­ram told The Jerusalem Post. The trainees in­clude some 5,000 sol­diers in the past month alone.

“What is unique about our pro­gram is that there are many pro­grams geared for peo­ple com­ing to Is­rael, but this is the only one for Is­raelis go­ing abroad,” he said.

The idea for the IS­RAEL-Is be­gan while Bi­ram was trav­el­ing in the Far East and re­al­ized that trekking Is­raelis were not al­ways equipped to deal with ques­tions about their coun­try. Once he came home, he ap­proached two oth­ers from his for­mer unit, and they es­tab­lished the pro­gram.

“We un­der­stood that there are so many lost op­por­tu­ni­ties and we needed to build a pro­gram to make a change in Is­rael’s im­age abroad,” he ex­plained.

Fig­ures from a 2015 re­port by the Cen­tral Bureau of Sta­tis­tics found that 410,000 Is­raelis aged 20-24 go abroad each year.

Ac­cord­ing to Bi­ram, “no one has un­der­stood the po­ten­tial to use dis­charged sol­diers on their post-army trip to change how Is­rael is viewed abroad.”

Run on fi­nan­cial do­na­tions with 20 vol­un­teers, Bi­ram told the Post that the one-hour work­shops have the po­ten­tial to see 50,000 sol­diers take part ev­ery year. The goal for 2018 is 40,000.

With the sup­port of large Is­raeli com­pa­nies, Bi­ram and the oth­ers are plan­ning to pro­vide schol­ar­ships for less-for­tu­nate sol­diers who would like to travel fol­low­ing their mil­i­tary ser­vice but are un­able to. Sev­eral re­tired high-rank­ing IDF of­fi­cers have given their sup­port, in­clud­ing Maj.-Gen. (res.) Orna Bar­bivai, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ha­gai Topolan­sky, Maj.Gen. (res.) Tal Russo and Lt. Col. (res.) Peter Lerner.

In ad­di­tion to the army, se­nior Is­raeli of­fi­cials have given IS­RAEL-Is their sup­port. They in­clude Ron Prosor, who served as am­bas­sador to the UK in 2007-2011 and per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the UN in 2011-2015, and Deputy De­fense Min­is­ter Eli Ben-Da­han.

“The strug­gle against the boy­cott move­ment and the at­tempts to dele­git­imize the ex­is­tence of the State of Is­rael is a na­tional chal­lenge that the State of Is­rael has been deal­ing with in re­cent years,” Ben-Da­han told the Post.

“The vet­er­ans who have been ac­cus­tomed to fight­ing for the IDF on the bat­tle­field and who might be the main vic­tims of th­ese move­ments are now be­ing re­cruited by the IS­RAEL-Is to fight for the bat­tle of con­scious­ness,” he con­tin­ued. “I was happy to meet with the founders of IS­RAEL-Is and hear about their com­mit­ment to this im­por­tant mis­sion. I will do ev­ery­thing in my power to help them re­al­ize their vi­sion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Bi­ram, the pro­gram has no po­lit­i­cal goals – it is sim­ply a pro­gram to in­struct sol­diers on how to in­ter­act with peo­ple from other coun­tries while on their post-army trip.

“Some­times they don’t know that peo­ple abroad see Is­rael, the IDF and the peo­ple liv­ing here to­tally dif­fer­ently,” he said, adding that many Is­raelis who travel don’t al­ways have the tools to ex­plain what Is­rael is for them, some­times due to a lack of knowl­edge, and other times be­cause of a lack of lan­guage skills.

With a vi­sion to uti­lize young trav­el­ers to change Is­rael’s per­cep­tion abroad,“our mes­sage,” he con­cluded, “is that the sit­u­a­tion in Is­rael is not black and white. Each Is­raeli leav­ing the coun­try has a re­spon­si­bil­ity for Is­rael’s brand.”

(Eyal Bi­ram)

A IS­RAEL-IS VOL­UN­TEER speaks to soon-to-be dis­charged IDF sol­diers dur­ing a work­shop.

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