I wouldn’t have thought it was necessary to write an article explaining why refusing to serve in the IDF isn’t commendable but I’ve just read Noah Efron’s article arguing that we should respect the stand taken by 19 year old Nathan Blanc who has consistently refused to serve in the army, despite having served roughly six months in prison.
I feel compelled to respond to the argument that this is in some way commendable. Noah you seem to write about Blanc as if being 19 is too young to be able to decide what’s important in life. I beg to differ, I think that 19 years old is more than old enough to be able to understand why Israel needs soldiers to defend her. I think it is clear to the vast majority of people for obvious reasons from a much younger age.
Towards the end of your article you said the following;
But though I disagree with him, Blanc gives me hope. He reminds me how after generations of troubles – wars, terror, and the tragedies they’ve visited on Jews and Palestinians alike – we retain the heart and muscle for moral self-criticism. I disagree with the kid, but still I see in him the best of us.
No Noah, that’s not the best of us.
I’ll tell you about the best of us, I’ll tell you about the 19 year old men I served with. They didn’t want to be in the army but they had the moral fortitude to recognise that they didn’t have a choice, not because it was the law but because, as you and just about everyone else living here recognises, we need an army in order to remain a country. I know them well, I have been to their homes and heard their father’s talk to me, many of them were career officers in the IDF. One after the other they’d tell me how they told their sons not to go to a combat unit, how they told them that they had done enough for both of them, that they didn’t want their sons to see what they had seen, that when their son’s were born, they like all Israelis, had prayed that by the time their sons were 18 there would be peace and national service would no longer be necessary, well their prayers didn’t come to pass. They told their sons that there was no shame in being a jobnik, that you could still make a contribution in a non combat role. To a man each of my friends ignored their fathers and went to a combat unit anyway. “If I have to do it, I’ll do it the best I can” one of them said to me of his choice to become a paratrooper.
They’re the best of us Noah.
Your respect for this adult for refusing to serve in the IDF on the basis of the fact that it takes conviction to do so is like saying you respect burglars now languishing in prison because it takes guts to carry out a heist. If you had said that you agree with what Blanc is saying I could at least follow your reasoning, but your admission that you disagree with him while respecting his refusal to bow to authority is a little too much for me. I am sure by the way that it takes a lot of courage to rob a bank, I’m also sure that those who try it deserve to end up languishing in prison.
You say you disagree with Blanc’s argument because;
His protest fails to acknowledge that, if the IDF administers an occupation he finds immoral, it also protects us from energetic enemies seeking to maim or kill Israelis. And in failing to acknowledge that our politicians, not our generals, are responsible for the policies he decries, Blanc’s protest further politicizes the army.
I gotta tell you Noah you don’t need to do much thinking to understand why a country needs armed services. Blanc knows why, he just doesn’t care.
Your argument that Blanc deserves our respect is an insult to all of the men and women who put their lives on the line day after day, not because they want to but because they appreciate that if they don’t then none of us would have a country.
But you already know this.
It takes a helluva lot more courage to throw yourself into the breech, prepared to sacrifice all that you are and all that you could ever be in defense of an ideal than it does to allow yourself to become a faux martyr to the cause of peace.
I blog here in post after post calling on people to fight for the rights of Palestinians, calling on them to understand the ‘other’ living on the other side of the wall. I argue that withdrawal from the West Bank is the only way forward for a peaceful future but I don’t imagine for a single second that refusing to serve in the IDF and protect the country is conducive to peace.
When I look at Blanc I don’t see in him the best of us as you do, I see something else entirely.