I am an American and a Jew, and throughout my adult life I have wished for and had faith in the continued prosperity and success of the modern State of Israel. But today, when I read news reports of IDF reservists refusing voluntary service, I’m shocked and saddened, and I feel that a red line that should never have even been approached has actually been crossed.
It isn’t right to express one’s political views, no matter how strongly and sincerely held, by exposing one’s fellow citizens to mortal danger. That is, in effect, what the protesting reservists are doing. They should think again.
I have always been very reluctant to comment on internal Israeli political matters, for two reasons. First, I’m not an Israeli, so I think it’s somewhat inappropriate for me to voice opinions when I would not have to bear the consequences if my opinions are put into action. Secondly, particularly with regard to the Israeli political system: that system is so different from the American system (with which I’m very familiar) that I’m reluctant to express opinions regarding matters that I do not fully understand.
This latter point relates very directly to my response (or non-response) to the heated controversy around the current government’s proposals to alter—or, as the government would say, reform—various aspects of the Israeli Supreme Court’s membership and decision-making. I’m an attorney with, I think, a good understanding of the American legal system, including our constitutional law. But the Israeli system is so different from America’s that I have great difficulty reaching any firm conclusions regarding which if any “reforms” to the Supreme Court should be adopted by Israel.
But, notwithstanding all the caution and uncertainty reflected in the foregoing, there is one thing of which I am certain: It is never under any circumstances right, proper, or justifiable to express one’s views about a political controversy in a way that exposes one fellow citizens to danger. This is true whether one is an Israeli, an American, or a citizen of any other country.
If a Tibetan monk decides to set himself on fire to protest Chinese brutality, that is one thing. But if he decides to set other Tibetans on fire, regardless of whether those other Tibetans are willing to be immolated to protest Chinese brutality, that is a different thing entirely.
I have read news stories in which protesting IDF reservists are reported to have said, in sum and substance, that they are willing to risk their lives to defend a democracy but not to defend a dictatorship. It is, first of all, quite a stretch to say that the present government is a dictatorship. If it actually were a dictatorship, it wouldn’t be confronted with all the opposition, both in the Knesset and in the streets, that it faces. Even if one is honestly troubled by the direction in which the government is moving, no one can seriously argue that Israel is now governed by a dictatorship.
More fundamentally, the purpose and responsibility of the IDF is not to defend any particular Israeli government that may be in power at one time or another. Rather, it is the responsibility of the IDF to protect the Israeli citizenry as best it can, regardless of the political tenor of any particular government. And, when I speak of the responsibility to protect Israel’s citizenry, I mean protecting the citizenry from groups and states that would be happy to use military-scale deadly violence against those citizens.
Everyone knows that Israel has fanatical enemies—Iran is one. Senior officials in Iran can be expected to be fully aware of current events in the “little Satan.” Just this week, The Times of Israel ran a story headlined: “IDF admits protesting reservists have caused some harm to its readiness.” It isn’t difficult to figure out how those senior Iranian officials react when they’re given information with that thrust. A light bulb turns on just above their turban-clad heads, and they start thinking about attacks that they and/or their proxies might launch against Israel.
I would respectfully urge—in fact, implore—all protesting reservists, and all those reservists who are considering protesting, to take a deep breath and then take another path. You are of course free, and you may well feel it your duty, to protest against the government’s actions and proposals regarding the Supreme Court or any other issue. But there are many ways to protest legitimately. Thousands have taken to the streets to exercise their democratic rights of assembly, free speech, and petitioning their government for redress of grievances. That is as it should be.
But if you express a political view by withholding voluntary IDF service that you otherwise would provide, thus causing “harm to [IDF] readiness,” that is wrong. No one should voice his or her political views in a way that endangers the well-being of fellow citizens. Please, don’t be the monk who sets other Tibetans on fire.