Canadians call on justice department to investigate IDF recruitment in Toronto schools

Should Toronto schools funnel students into a foreign military engaged in a brutal occupation?

Canadian law makes it illegal to recruit soldiers for a foreign state. But, the line between enticing impressionable young people to oppress Palestinians and formal recruitment is unclear.

In an open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, filmmaker Ken Loach, author Yann Martel, former MP Jim Manly, poet El Jones and more than 150 others call on the Canadian Justice Minister David Lametti to investigate the Israeli consulate for advertisements to recruitment Canadians into the Israel’s military, and possible military recruitment inside of Toronto schools. The letter and adjoining formal complaint asks the federal government on Monday to apply charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act against those recruiting Canadians, if such violations are found during an inquiry.

The complaint named Israeli government officials operating in Canada and specifies Toronto schools could also be enticing young minds to join the IDF under the pretext of cultural events held in classrooms with Israeli military representatives.

Israeli military in Canadian schools

Whether or not there is a formal plan to recruit inside of schools, this is how it appears to work: schools hold performances by Israeli military bands, organize fundraisers for groups supporting “lone soldiers” and celebrate the IDF. As the kids move from elementary to high school, former and current Israeli soldiers talk to them about the IDF, in an apparent recruitment drive that parallels the Israeli consulate’s.

Netivot HaTorah Day School promotes the IDF and the foreign nationals who join it to children at the pre-K through eighth grade school. A January Netivot HaTorah Facebook post explains that a “‘donut day’ fundraising initiative raised over $750 for an organization called Garin Chayalim — a program that supports IDF lone soldiers.” A decade ago the school’s president, Dov Rosenblum, reportedly boasted to the Canadian Jewish News that “at least 15 alumni serve in the IDF.”

Bialik Hebrew Day School also promotes the IDF. Its website notes, “Tzedakah programs such as Shai Le’chayal help students feel a sense of responsibility to the Israeli community by sending gifts to Israeli soldiers. Similarly, having the opportunity to interact with IDF Band soldiers, who visit to perform for the school, reinforces these feelings.”

The Toronto Heschel School had the IDF Nachal Band play last September and organized other initiatives supportive of the Israeli military.

At Leo Baeck Day School “pre-army Israelis” spend a year with families in the Toronto school community through an emissary program. When they return to Israel for military service, the Canadian Jewish News reports, they engage with students “by way of live video chat from their Israel Defence Forces barracks dressed in their military uniforms.” Students also pay “tribute to Israel’s fallen heroes” and fundraise for Beit Halochem Canada/Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel, which supports injured IDF soldiers.

Leo Baeck and the other schools feed students to high schools that promote the IDF where students commonly enlist after graduation. The IDF Orchestra has performed at TanenbaumCHAT and Canada’s largest private high school organizes fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives. Last month its Facebook page described “an effort to raise money for the IDF. Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of our students and staff, we are happy to report that members of an army base in the south of Israel now have a nice spot to sit and enjoy their version of ‘10-minute break.’”

The school holds regular “IDF days.” A summary of one in January notes,

Shavuah Yisrael continued today with @IDF day. The @tanenbaumchat community — under the leadership of our Schlichim [Israeli emissaries] Lee and Ariel — showed their support for the Israel Defence Forces by wearing green, eating green and donating green! Proceeds from the delicious green-sprinkled donuts that were sold during the 10-minute break are being donated to help the well-being of Israeli soldiers on active duty on behalf of TanenbaumCHAT thru the Association for the Soldiers of Israel – Canada.”

The school’s alumni magazine advertises a fund that assists students wanting to join the IDF. It notes, the “Continuing Studies in Israel Judy Shaviv Memorial Fund ‘Keren Yad Yehudit’ assists graduates to serve in the IDF, study or volunteer.”

The high school also celebrates graduates who have served in the IDF and has them speak about joining the Israeli military. According to its site,

During Shavua Israel (Israel Week) in February 2020, Seth Frieberg ’08 spoke to students about his experiences as a Lone Soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Bringing into focus his personal connection to Israel, he noted that ‘this was basically 14 months where every day I was doing something that, for me, was a meaningful and substantial way to give back to Israel.’”

Alongside the Israeli Consulate General, Israeli officers speak at the school. In May 2019 Colonel Barak Hiram told students about “being a new recruit and a seasoned commander in the Golani Brigade.”

Active duty IDF soldiers also speak at Toronto’s Bnei Akiva. Some of the high school teachers’ biographies state that they served in the Israeli military and the school celebrates the Israeli military in other ways. “Love Bnei Akiva?! Love the IDF?! Come run the Jerusalem Marathon with us! Bnei Akiva has partnered with Tikvot and together we are raising funds to help injured IDF soldiers and terror victims recuperate!,” a 2018 school Facebook post says.

Bnei Akiva honours alumni who served in the IDF on its webpage. “Bnei Akiva Schools is proud to honour our alumni who have served courageously in the Israel Defense Forces,” its website explains. Its LinkedIn profile notes, “upon graduation, students typically spend at least one or more years of study in Israel, and many serve in the IDF or complete Israel National Service.” The schools’ Wikipedia page is even more blunt: “The schools are supportive of graduates to serve in the IDF and Israeli national service (Sherut Leumi).”

The World Bnei Akiva movement has an academy in Israel that offers a six-month preparation program for foreign nationals planning to join the IDF. To get a sense of the movement’s anti-Palestinian outlook, the secretary-general of World Bnei Akiva, Rabbi Noam Perel, called for “revenge” and “blood of the enemy” after the 2014 murder of three Israeli teens:

The government of Israel is gathering for a revenge meeting that isn’t a grief meeting. The landlord has gone mad at the sight of his sons’ bodies. A government that turns the army of searchers to an army of avengers, an army that will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins,” Perel wrote on Facebook in reference to the biblical tale of David, who killed hundreds of Philistines and cut their foreskins. “The disgrace will be paid for with the blood of the enemy, not with our tears,” Perel concluded.

Bnei Akiva School and TanenbaumCHAT entice their students to join the Israeli military and elementary schools prepare young minds to revere the IDF. It’s unclear whether Bnei Akiva School and TanenbaumCHAT’s actions – a formal investigation would no doubt uncover a great deal more evidence – contravene Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act.

Legal questions aside, should Ontario schools funnel youngsters into a foreign military engaged in a brutal 53-year occupation?