After more than 30 years of service in the IDF as a field commander, a senior staff officer and someone who experienced many of our nation’s security challenges firsthand, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amir Avivi felt that civil society in Israel needed to be more engaged and that the voice of former security officials was too monolithic and one-sided.
“I also sensed that too many Israelis take what we have for granted, and don’t understand that if we want to continue to live here in security and prosperity, we have to address our national security in a much more focused manner,” he said.
These considerations prompted Avivi and other veterans to found the Israel Defense and Security Forum, an organization that today boasts some 20,000 active members.
“The IDSF is known in Hebrew as Habitchonistim,” he said. “We are Israel’s largest NGO of veterans from the various security services: the IDF, Police, ISA (Shabak), Mossad and Prison Services.
“Some members were junior officers or enlisted personnel, and hundreds are senior officers at the rank of colonel and above,” he added. “We are a grassroots organization that aspires to protect our beloved country and to ensure that it will be here and flourishing for generations to come, and we have set forth in doing so by educating the youth, researching the security environment and the existing threats and by influencing decision makers in Israel and abroad on matters of national security.”
The group is very active in Israeli and international media, on social networks and engages with all levels of society in Israel.
“Even though I founded the movement less than four years ago, our growth has been massive - probably a reflection of our popularity and clarity of aim and message,” Avivi noted. “The people in Israel get who we are and what we are about, and recognize that we are committed professionals who feel very strongly about Israel’s national security.”
One of IDSF’s main focuses is on education.
“We educate thousands of young Israelis in schools and pre-military academies (“Mehinot”) and seek to strengthen their Zionist identity, as well as their love and pride in their country,” Avivi explained. “We believe that National Security is first and foremost about national values, about our Jewish Zionist Identity. Without spirit, no airplane or tank can help.”
The NGO is active in the Diaspora as well.
“We also reach out to Jewish communities around the world to strengthen the bond with our brothers and sisters beyond the sea,” said Avivi.
However, according to the veteran, there is much more that needs to be done.
“This year we published a book about the national security of the State of Israel in Hebrew, and I’m very excited to announce that after the High Holidays, we will also publish an English version for people around the world to read,” he said.
“The book is called ‘Heroes of Our Own Story,’ and in it I address the core threats that the Jewish state faces today, from Iranian proxy organizations to ongoing struggle with anti-Semitism and BDS, and provide suggestions on what needs to be done to overcome these threats.”
Aviv highlighted that the issue “basically boils down to belief.”
“We have to remind ourselves of the justness of our cause and again commit ourselves to protecting and nurturing the miracle that the modern State of Israel is in our ancestral homeland,” he said. “We cannot take things for granted and must devote serious efforts into dealing with the challenges, something that I unfortunately feel that we aren’t doing enough.”
Despite the threats that Israel faces, Aviv said that he remains optimistic.
“I am very optimistic and hopeful, and really feel blessed to live in these times in a free, independent, vibrant and flourishing Jewish and Democratic state,” he said. “I have great confidence in our brilliant youth, whom I meet regularly and interact with, and know that our people possess the power, skill and will to prosper in this tough neighborhood. I feel like it’s my job to help that vision materialize, and know beyond any doubt that if we stand united and care for each other, no external threat can do us any harm.”
Avivi was honored in the 2023 Top 50 Most Influential Jews list.
“I feel very privileged to be on this list, together with so many excellent people from various backgrounds,” he said. “I feel the weight of the responsibility and am very proud to represent the 20,000 members of the Israel Defense and Security Forum and to give them a voice.”
This article was written in cooperation with IDSF