Why is a Montréal school pushing students to join the Israeli military?

Hebrew Academy bombards its students with pro-Israel Defense Force messages. Montréal’s largest Jewish school shows movies that celebrate the Israeli military; students send gifts to IDF bases; Israeli emissaries lead kindergarten classes in “fun IDF programs”.

Why should Quebec taxpayers fund a school aggressively promoting a foreign military engaged in a brutal 50-year occupation? These efforts to entice impressionable young minds into oppressing Palestinians may even be illegal.

The Foreign Enlistment Act is supposed to prohibit Canadians from recruiting for a foreign army. It notes, “any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.”

Hebrew Academy (HA) promotes those who join the Israeli military. An April 2020 article from the school website notes, “following a nod to HA alumni serving in the IDF and a prayer for chayalei Tzahal [IDF] by School Rabbi Rabbi Eddie Shostak, Head of School Dr. Laura Segall relayed that her parents both served in the IDF.” That month HA also posted a video to its Facebook page of alumni currently serving in the IDF. Under the caption “A meaningful video featuring our HA alumni who are serving in the Israel Defense Forces”, a half dozen alumni spend 12 minutes telling students about the importance of serving in the violent occupation force.

The school considers joining the IDF a special accomplishment. Last March 24 HA posted a picture of three young men to its Facebook with the caption: “Mazel tov to class of 2018 alumni Michael Kuperstok, Nathan Bebuzru and Yehuda Besner who are enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces this week. We are beyond proud of you!”

A number of initiatives may more directly seek to entice students to join the IDF. Former Israeli soldiers visit HA students about to graduate (Grade 11 in Québec). In 2016 their website reported, “only one week into the new school year, Grade 10 and 11 students were privileged to meet three former members of the IDF who are in Montreal on a two-week visit as representatives of Beit Halochem.”

HA is a federal government recognized Community Learning Centre and is registered with the Québec education ministry. Private schools in Québec receive 60% of the per-pupil operational funding of public schools and 40% of their total funds generally come from the provincial government. But, this sum doesn’t include the cost to the public purse of the tax receipts given to charities. A sizable share of tuition at HA can also be deducted from an individual’s federal income tax and HA receives significant support from Federation Combined Jewish Appeal of Montréal and other registered charities.

A recent parliamentary petition is putting a spotlight on recruitment and inducement for the Israeli military. Submitted by Rabbi David Mivasair and sponsored by NDP MP Matthew Green, the petition calls “upon the Minister of Justice to undertake a thorough investigation of those who have recruited or facilitated recruiting for the Israel Defense Forces, and if warranted lay charges against those involved in recruiting and encouraging recruiting for the IDF.” It is part of a multi-faceted campaign that began in the fall with 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 asking the federal government to apply charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act against those recruiting Canadians for the Israeli military.

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

Legal questions aside, should a Montreal school funnel youngsters into a foreign military engaged in a brutal 50-year occupation? And should taxpayers foot the bill?



Please sign the parliamentary petition calling for an investigation into illegal Israeli military recruitment in Canada.

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