At the beginning of the week I traveled to IDF Training Base 1, near Mitzpe Ramon in the south, in order to speak to infantry cadets about to complete officer’s course. The drive was pleasant; the south is beautiful these days.
I drove through a vast, dusty desert, while here and there spotting a quarry, with yellow mining equipment above it, looking like yellow prehistoric monsters digging into the limestone.
I was received by the deputy commander, Lieutenant Colonel Avi, who met me at the parking lot and led to me to the office of Colonel Aharon Haliwa, the commander of the base. The commander’s office is one of those things that never change. A smiling soldier made coffee for us and the three of us sat down and spoke, passing the time until the lecture starts.
There is something relaxing about such conversations. It reminds you again that the IDF is replete with high quality, wise people, who truly care. Out of curiosity and in order to pass the time, I asked how many guest lecturers arrived at the course thus far. “Seven or eight,” Lt. Col. Avi replied. Who were the speakers? I asked. The commander and his deputy traded uncomfortable glances. “They were all rabbis,” Avi said.
I admit that I gasped with astonishment. The views of religious-Zionist rabbis are of course worthy of being heard, yet they represent a very defined and very narrow camp within the Israeli spectrum. This is not the way to shape the perception of future division and brigade commanders.
“Make no mistake about it,” Colonel Haliwa told me. “This is not what we wanted, yet with the rabbis it’s the easiest. They are always happy to come here. You call them, and they just ask when would be a convenient time for us and arrive immediately.”
What does it have to do with convenience? I asked. What about A. B. Yehoshua and Amnon Dankner? Koby Oz, Shlomo Artzi, and Yaron London? What about all the members of the media, the artists, the authors, and the poets; why don’t you invite them?
“We invite them all the time,” said one of the commanders, almost insulted. “Not a week goes by where we don’t call and ask them to arrive.”
Well, I said. What’s the problem?
“I have no idea,” Colonel Avi said. “You are the first one who agreed to come.”
I grew silent. Colonel Haliwa, who saw that I was shocked, cheered me up with a slap on the back. “Well,” he said, “there’s not much that can be done about it. Mitzpe Ramon is a little too far for them.”