Autistic IDF soldier presents Iron Dome to President Biden

July 15, 2022 by Aryeh Savir - TPS
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Shortly after alighting from Air Force One at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday and participating in a welcoming ceremony, US President Joe Biden toured a Defense Ministry display of Israel’s multi-tier air defence systems.

President Joe Biden (C) at the defence systems display. (David Azagury, U.S. Embassy Jerusalem)

The display at the airport included a multilayered system capable of intercepting everything from long-range ballistic missiles in space to short-range rockets, from the long-range Arrow and medium-range David’s Sling to the short-range Iron Dome.

It also featured a high-powered laser interception system dubbed Iron Beam, which is still in its developmental stages and is designed to work in tandem with systems like Iron Dome and shoot down smaller projectiles.

Biden was highly impressed by the military’s Iron Dome exhibit, but he was surprised to learn that one of the IDF’s top weapons technicians is a brilliant young man with autism and that Israel incorporates young people with disabilities into its ranks.

“What Biden discovered that in addition to its unmatched defence systems, the Israeli military has another secret weapon — a highly-trained squad of elite soldiers with autism and disabilities,” Special in Uniform said.

One of the IDF soldiers who attended the presidential reception was Akiva Parsoff, a member of JNF-USA’ affiliate program Special in Uniform. Akiva, who is on the autistic spectrum, was inducted into the IDF several years ago in the framework of the military inclusion program, and today serves on the Palmachim Air Force base in the Iron Dome systems where he is currently one of the base’s top technicians in the weapons maintenance centre.

He says that his phenomenal learning abilities, a result of his autism, actually spurred his rise through the military ranks.

“Autism is a gift,” said Akiva, “a gift to the world, and people on the spectrum can offer a lot to the world. That’s why I’m here—to spread this word. I was ecstatic when my commander chose me to represent the unit and exhibit the Iron Dome to President Biden, who is a great friend of Israel.”

Special in Uniform integrates young people with Special Needs into the IDF, and in turn, into Israeli society. The unique program focuses on the unique talents of each individual participant to help them find a job within the IDF that is a perfect fit, based on the belief that everyone belongs and has the right to reach his or her full potential.

“Special in Uniform focuses on the ability, not the disability, of each individual, encouraging transformation, independence, and integration into society,” the program directors stress.

“President Biden and his team are working hard at home to expand employment for people with disabilities. It is fantastic that Israel is such a positive role model in this as well,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a longtime American disability rights activist and an advocate for Israel.

“As the Abraham Accords further expand, idea sharing between Israel and the Arab world on the full integration of people with disabilities in employment can offer great hope for a better future. Special in Uniform is a shining light on how people with all abilities can contribute positively to society, and I hope that such models can be used throughout the world,” she said.

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