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Lawrence Rifkin

A farewell to arms?

Refusing to serve as a form of protest has its dangers – but no more so than the proposed policies of Netanyahu’s government

I’d love to say, this is it — I refuse to serve any longer.

But who am I? A pissant former reservist whose military service, which ended some 25 years ago, would make no difference one way or another, were I to refuse to show up when called to arms.

Of course, I’m not entirely square with the issue. Refusing to serve means refusing to defend your family, your neighbors, your friends.

But this is not a routine issue. It is not a question of serving at the behest of a government you don’t agree with. I and most others like me served under governments both right and left, those that were amenable to relinquishing territory for the chance for peace, and those that were resolutely against this, whether for reasons of defense, a lack of trust, or even a higher, more heavenly calling.

It is now a matter that is far more basic, one that defines what the country is, what it is willing to be.

Israel is a nation that likes to call itself a democracy — the only democracy in the Middle East.

If you think about it, it’s not a status that’s difficult to aspire to.

Democracy? One person, one vote, and then fair, open and democratic rule. Rinse and repeat. But democracy in the Middle East? The place is riddled with kingdoms, dictatorships, and failed states that came close, but succumbed to the usual ethnic strife or the simple rapacity born of legacy rule.

In Israel, though, for the past 75 years, it has worked. Sometimes barely. Yet there were always democratic elections held routinely — if not on a calendar basis, then at least from one vote to the next.

But now it hangs in the balance. There’s a prime minister who has been indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and even bribery. He will do anything to avoid jail time, even invite into his government personalities he once swore would never be welcome, due to their extremism and criminal predilections.

Now that these personalities are firmly ensconced in positions of power – one, a 47-year-old juvenile delinquent who never outgrew a penchant for childish, Mussolini-like puffing, heads up a domestic security agency he wants to turn into a personal militia – the prime minister has become something of a Frankenstein. His monster is out of control.

Which is not to say the mad scientist isn’t exactly where he wants to be — which is at the helm of a government that is hell-bent on neutering the country’s sole proprietor of checks and balances in order to further his chances of avoiding jail time. The only problem is, his cohorts want to take it many steps farther to a mode of legal oversight — which is to say non-oversight — that tolerates their intolerance, as well as their thirst for a super-nationalistic and even messianic approach toward governance of a Jewish state, rather than a state for the Jews. And they want their drink now.

There aren’t too many legal and civilized ways to express one’s displeasure, short of waiting another few years for elections — if there are going to be elections. So you bring the country to a halt, whether by blocking highways, railways, and airports, or by going all the way and threatening to refuse to take up arms when so many of those who want an uber-nationalist theocracy are themselves too busy studying holy texts to waste their time on such prosaic matters as national defense.

So I am torn. Do you tolerate the threat to refuse to bear arms as an act of protest rather than the expression of pacifistic ideology? After all, the ones threatening to do this are hard-working, decent, and committed Zionists, who, for the most part, have outlived their military shelf life and are serving solely on a voluntary basis. But what happens when it spreads to those still obligated to serve?

Yet you must also look at the other side. Is Benjamin Netanyahu so desperate to stay out of jail that he is willing to let the country go down the tubes, whether amid barricades in the streets or among craters on the battlefield?

Rather than seeking an answer from tens or hundreds of thousands of citizens who can each see things according to their own preferred shapes and hues, the more logical way is to ask one man, an individual who brought all of this on with his own trembling yet arrogant hands, and therefore has the power to end the upheaval with no more than a few simple decisions.

It would make things so much easier, Bibi. And certainly not just for me.

About the Author
Lawrence Rifkin is a retired Israeli journalist.
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