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David E. Weisberg

David Horovitz is wrong

Here is a thought experiment.  Consider the following:

  • Some IDF reservists are refusing to report for voluntary service so as to express deep disapproval of (a) the current government’s adoption of legislation curtailing the scope of the Supreme Court’s power to review legislation, and (b) additional governmental proposals potentially affecting both the Supreme Court and other aspects of Israeli society (e.g., exempting certain Orthodox men from military service).
  • The reservists’ refusals have harmed IDF readiness, and this is a matter of public record.
  • Diminished IDF readiness that is a matter of public record invites attacks by enemies of Israel.
  • If enemies do attack Israel, it is entirely possible that ordinary citizens—whether they support, oppose, or are indifferent to current government policies—will be injured and even killed.

I think every reasonable person would agree that all these statements are true.

So, here is the question:

Who would be most directly responsible and thus blameworthy for the possible injuries and deaths referred to in the fourth statement above: The government that makes proposals and enacts legislation that some reservists find deeply objectionable, or those reservists who withhold their voluntary service?

David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel, has written an op-ed that explicitly accepts the truth of the first three statements above, and no one would deny the truth of the fourth.  He in effect answers the question I’ve posed by emphatically asserting that it is the government–or, as the headline for his op-ed puts it, “Netanyahu’s extremists”–who would be responsible for any disastrous consequences of a weaker IDF.  I think any clear-eyed rational observer would disagree.  Those most directly responsible would be reservists who, by withholding service, emboldened enemies to attack.

Mr. Horovitz’s op-ed is a perfect specimen of the very familiar phenomenon that can be referred to as “root cause” analysis.  Someone does something that many would judge to be unacceptable or even unlawful, such as shoplifting.  One might think that such behavior is wrong and should be punished, but there are those who will reject that view.  They will think, instead, that the dire circumstances of the shoplifter’s upbringing, or the poverty he or she currently experiences, or society’s systemic inequality, is the true root cause of the bad behavior.  The shoplifter is not to blame; blame should fall on the root causes.  The shoplifter should not be punished; the root causes must be eliminated.

In exactly the same way, while never using the “root cause” jargon, Mr. Horovitz compiles a virtually endless list of circumstances that supposedly justify the reservists’ refusals to serve.  Those circumstances include the government’s push to either reform or dismantle (depending on your politics) the Supreme Court, various ministers’ accusations against IDF officers, and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision “to give so much power in this government to messianists whose pyromaniacal agendas run counter to the most fundamental interests of the state.”  And this is what Mr. Horovitz says P.M. Netanyahu should do specifically with regard to menacing external threats; the P.M. should:

[H]eed the security establishment’s warnings — of rising danger in the West Bank, of rising concerns across the northern border. And to restore cohesion in the military ranks — if necessary by firing the lawmakers inciting against officers and security chiefs, and by rebuilding the security establishment’s confidence and trust in its political masters.

Nothing in the op-ed urges that, to deal with rising dangers and restore cohesion in the military, reservists should decide not to refuse voluntary service.

I am not in a position (as I have explained in a previous op-ed) to make judgments regarding the political issues that are now consuming Israel’s citizenry.  But one thing I do know: If Israel’s enemies are emboldened to attack because they believe reservists’ refusals have diminished IDF readiness, those enemies won’t care a hoot whether the reservists had good reasons, bad reasons, or no reasons at all to refuse.

The ayatollahs in Iran, and their proxies in Gaza and Lebanon, don’t care about the functioning of Israel’s Supreme Court, or where Israel’s current government falls on the left-to-right political spectrum.  But they are intensely interested in the readiness of Israel’s military.  And what directly and adversely affects that readiness today are the decisions of some reservists to refuse service.

All Israelis have the right to express disapproval of the government’s present actions and future plans.  Massive street demonstrations have expressed disapproval.  Some would say that those demonstrations have been insufficiently effective in causing the government to alter course; others would say that the demonstrations have been too effective.

But even if one is convinced that the government is still much too committed to wrong-headed, improper plans and proposals, there must be a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate expressions of disapproval.  No one, I hope, would start shooting at his or her political adversaries, simply because they were adversaries.

Those reservists who are refusing to serve are not shooting at anyone, but they are heightening the risk that some innocent Israelis will be shot.  Again, the ayatollahs do not care about governance issues in Israel; they care about the strength or weakness of Israel’s military.  If they sense weakness, they might be tempted to attack.  If they do attack, Israelis, both in and out of the military, might die.

I would beg all Israelis to think calmly and carefully about today’s controversies.  There are legitimate ways to register protests, but there are also illegitimate ways.  Please avoid all forms of protest that are illegitimate.  Please do not tempt enemies to attack.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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