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Monday, August 13, 2007

Soldiers who refuse orders - who is right?

The refusal of some IDF soldiers to evacuate two families of Hebron settlers who took over Arab houses without permission or legal sanction, has caused a controversy. That was exactly the intent - to draw attention, and publicity and get recruits. The ideological rationale behind their behavior is that GOD told them what is right and wrong. Those who are opposed to the occupation insist that this phenomenon is "different" from those who refuse to serve in the IDF because they are opposed to the occupation, and Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) would of course argue that their failure to serve in the IDF is also "different" - because GOD told them what is right and wrong.
There are many issues to be sorted out here.
1. The Tal law, which in practice exempts most Haredim from IDF service, is an immoral solution that must be actively combatted if we are to save Israel and Israeli democracy. There is no issue there. In that respect, Haredi draft evasion (and work evasion) is not comparable to the protest of the settler supporters.
2. Since the settler supporters, like the Haredi draft evaders, claim that GOD told them what they ought to be doing, it seems that GOD is sending out different messages to different people, and should probably not be invoked as an authority. HE is not very consistent.
3. Civil disobedience is a necessary concomitant of any democracy, whether it is done by the right or the left, for or against the occupation. Civil disobedience against an unjust or harmful law is a civic duty, provided it is not based on an ideology alien to democracy.
It would be a patriotic act, in my view, if an entire annual cadre of IDF recruits were to refuse service until the Tal law was changed. There is no reason why my sons and daugher should give several years of their lives (at least that) to the IDF, and why the sons and daughters of all of us should risk their lives, while Haredim are exempt.
4. Cursing the IDF is a free speech right, but allusions to death threats are dangerous incitement.
5. In a perpetual emergency such as the one Israel is facing, it is sometimes necessary to curb liberties. On the other hand, it is never possible to know where to draw the line. An order to kill innocent civilians is clearly against international law and IDF regulations, and nobody should carry out that type of order. But in the case of the leftist and rightist refusers of orders that is not an issue.
6. Democracy ceases to function when the orders of a democratically elected government are superseded in principle by the idea that GOD or a group of rabbis are higher authorities than the government in matters related to state administration. This turns the state into a theocracy. That is the really important difference between refusal to serve in the territories because of opposition to the occupation, and refusal to evict Hebron settlers. On the other hand, total refusal to serve in the IDF based on anti-Zionist ideology is no longer civil disobedience. It is insurrection, and the people who preach it or practice it should be dealt with in the manner that befits insurrection. Unfortunately, while the Tal law exists, there is no moral justification for allowing one group of anti-Zionists to get away scot-free with insurrection, while prosecuting a different group of anti-Zionists. In a democracy, the anti-Zionist Jehovah is no more of an authority than the communist one.
Yehuda Ben Meir gives his views on one aspect of the settler "refusenik" problem here: Sedition, not insubordination:
Most serious of all, however, is the intentional, organized harassment of IDF commanders and officers - using curses, ostracism and extreme incitement - sometimes extending to members of their families. The extremists involved in this are willing to sacrifice the State of Israel on the altar of the Land of Israel. If, God forbid, they succeed, we will be left without either one, as we were after the destruction of the Second Temple. The State of Israel has the power to stop them, and should do so sooner rather than later.
Ami Isseroff

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


  • I am not any kind of authority on Israeli affairs , and my coments are based only on experience and what I have read about recruitment for the IDF. To me it is just plain obvious that the exemption provided by the Tal laws is not simply pernecious. It is immoral, unjust, and , the most important effect, demoralizing. If I were a young secular Israeli, I would seriously question why I should serve and be prepared to sacrifice my very being when there is a large class of able bodied men who are legal draft dodgers and exempt just because they engage in almost alien religious practices. I would be seriously tempted to seek an escape from service.
    A country engaged in what is still an existential struggle simply can not allow the morale of its fighters to erode

    By Blogger Bud, At August 15, 2007 5:55:00 PM GMT+00:00  

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