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London Jewish youth club helps 'teenagers in crisis' join Israeli army

Boys Clubhouse, which last week hosted Levi Simon, a British man who fought in Gaza, runs project in Jerusalem which supports boys it helps to enlist for Israeli military
Photos on the Jerusalem Cave Club's website celebrate soldiers who have been drafted into the Israeli army or completed their service (Screengrab)
By Simon Hooper in London and Lubna Masarwa in Jerusalem

A London youth club for vulnerable Jewish boys runs a project in Jerusalem which assists young British men it has supported to join the Israeli army.

The Boys Clubhouse, in Hendon, is currently being investigated by the Charity Commission after it organised an event last week for excluded schoolboys to mark the return to the UK of a British man, Levi Simon, who was recently fighting for Israel in Gaza.

Middle East Eye can reveal that the Boys Clubhouse also has a Jerusalem venue called the Cave Club, which provides guidance and support for British nationals joining the Israeli military’s Lone Soldiers programme.

Some of those helped by the Cave Club appear to have been signposted there from the Boys Clubhouse.

The Cave Club’s website says: “Boys who have progressed from the UK program and wish to come to Israel to find their path here, have a center that helps them on their new journey.”

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Many of the young men from the UK it helps, it says, “have experienced social, educational and emotional difficulties or have struggled with addictions and other mental health issues as a result of abuse, trauma and broken homes”.

The Boys Clubhouse, which is a registered charity, describes itself on a fundraising page as providing a “secure and safe haven for Jewish teenagers in crisis” and “a place of last resort for adolescents who have become estranged from family and society”.

Ari Leaman, the founder and chief executive, was awarded an MBE in the recent New Year Honours List “for services to young people and to the community in Hendon”.

'If you are looking to join the IDF or Israeli Border Police as a lone soldier you have come to the right place'

Cave Club website

The Boys Clubhouse says the Cave Club is a satellite project with links to the Israeli army, as well as schools and universities, and offers “a range of opportunities not available in the UK”.

Staff at the Cave Club include an IDF liaison officer who is described as “our go-to guy for army recruits”.

The club offers the Garin Machal programme, a six-week training course that offers a fast track for foreign nationals looking to join the Israeli army. Its website displays images and messages congratulating soldiers who have enlisted or completed their service.

“Over the years there has been an increasing number of boys coming from diaspora and enlisting to the IDF some of them are trying to find a new path or simply as a feeling of duty to defend our count[r]y,” it says.

“If you are looking to join the IDF or Israeli Border Police as a lone soldier you have come to the right place. We have many boys joining the IDF from the UK and Europe every year.”

Posts on the Cave Club's website celebrate soldiers who have been drafted into the army, or have completed their service.

The Cave Club
The Cave Club was closed when Middle East Eye visited on Wednesday (MEE)

One post from 2019 reads: "Raff who is from the UK joined us last summer to join the IDF, he made it through the grueling Garin Machal pre-army program and is now part of the Golani brigade!! Keep it up and we wish you all the best!"

According to the Boys Clubhouse’s latest annual reports filed to the Charity Commission, during 2021 and 2022 its “Israel Project” helped 55 people.

Middle East Eye asked the Boys Clubhouse how many people it had helped to join the Israeli army, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

'[The club manager] is very, very active with the soldiers, British and American. He is receiving a lot of donations from abroad'

- Cave Club neighbour, Jerusalem

MEE visited the Cave Club in Jerusalem on Wednesday, but the venue was closed. A neighbour told MEE that the club was supporting British and American soldiers.

"They collect donations from outside and give them to them [the soldiers]," the neighbour said.

Another neighbour said the club's manager, Hillel Frickers, organised events for people who had been "rejected" in the UK and the US.

"He is very, very active with the soldiers, British and American. He is receiving a lot of donations from abroad," the neighbour said.

The Cave Club did not respond to MEE's request for comment.

'Huge advantage on the front line'

Since the start of the war in Gaza, following the Hamas attacks in southern Israel on 7 October, the Cave Club has been promoted on social media as a distribution point for aid sent from the UK for Israeli soldiers.

“So many army bases are hearing about it and sending their soldiers to get humanitarian supplies!” a social media post promoting the aid campaign said in late October.

Another post in early November said donors had supplied 720 suitcases for soldiers in three weeks, including body armour, helmets and gun flashlights.

A video posted by Levi Simon on his Instagram page, which is no longer available, described the aid provided at the Cave Club as “the ultimate gear, gives us a huge advantage on the frontline”.

“You have everything here,” he said. “You have your tactical pouches and I am a machine gunner so I can put my spare tins of bullets in it.”

MEE contacted Simon for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Police attend protests outside the Boys Clubhouse on 17 January, 2024 (MEE)
Police attend protests outside the Boys Clubhouse in north London, 17 January 2024 (MEE)

Revelations about the Boys Clubhouse’s support for young British men seeking to join the Israeli army appear to raise further concerns about its activities, after the Charity Commission said last week it was investigating the organisation.

Other charities in the UK fundraising for the Israeli army are also being investigated by the regulator.

The Commission launched a regulatory compliance case into the Boys Clubhouse after details of its event with Simon were made public, prompting angry confrontations outside the centre between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel activists, and causing organisers to move it to another venue.

Leaman told the Jewish Chronicle newspaper that Simon had been invited to speak to four boys who had been excluded from school “to inspire the boys to do well in life, it had nothing to do with the army… it was a talk about overcoming adversity and not doing drugs”.

Simon has attracted controversy by posting footage of himself in Gaza on his Instagram page, including a video in which he searches through a drawer of women’s underwear in a home abandoned by Palestinians.

In other videos he raises an Israeli flag over a school and suggests that the school will soon be teaching Hebrew, and draws a Star of David and writes "Am Yisrael Chai" (The people of Israel Live) on the wall of an abandoned home.

Tarek Younis, a senior lecturer in psychology at Middlesex University, which is also in Hendon, said the recruitment of vulnerable Jewish youths from the local area into the Israeli army raised significant ethical and safeguarding issues.

“In times of crisis and distress, youth are particularly prone to external influences and they may be more prone to individuals who position themselves as role models,” said Younis.

"Marginalised youth may also see limited opportunities to progress in life, and so the IDF benefits directly from promising ‘a better future’.

'I’m especially concerned and worried the IDF is recruiting vulnerable youth from our neighbourhood'

- Tarek Younis, Middlesex University lecturer

“As a senior lecturer working not far from the Boys Clubhouse, I’m especially concerned and worried the IDF is recruiting vulnerable youth from our neighbourhood. I’m sure many of the students and staff at Middlesex University, who represent a very ethnically diverse population, would agree.”

MEE asked the local council, Barnet Council, which has provided funding to the Boys Clubhouse, whether it was aware that the organisation had a project in Jerusalem supporting those it had helped to join the Israeli army, and whether any safeguarding concerns about its activities had been raised.

Barnet Council had not responded at the time of publication.

Israel’s forces have been accused of committing war crimes in Gaza by humanitarian and human rights organisations, and the country faces a complaint of genocide brought by South Africa that is currently being considered by the International Court of Justice. Israel denies those accusations and says it is acting in self-defence in Gaza.

In the UK, pro-Palestinian legal campaigners have filed a complaint to the Metropolitan Police’s war crimes unit, calling for British nationals serving in the Israeli military to be investigated.

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