Troops readying for discharge – and trips – being trained as ‘ambassadors’
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.”
A ISRAEL-IS VOLUNTEER speaks to soon-to-be discharged IDF soldiers during a workshop.