Yoni Leviatan
How to be Jewish: Be good. The end.

Dear Jews attacking IAF pilots – have you no shame?

Nothing shocks me more these days than the fact that I continue to be shocked by the levels of depravity some people are willing to stoop to when building a foundation on which to base their hate. Both in Israel and abroad, the issue of “judicial reform” – or a “legislative coup,” depending on one’s perspective – has brought to light the long-existing cleavages in World Jewry between Jews of all stripes who see the current struggle in Israel as existential to its future, if not its survival.

In their quest for legitimacy, Israelis from opposing political camps are inviting (some begging) Diaspora Jews to weigh in, each hoping to win more allies with appeals in the American press explaining their point of view about the coming expansion of powers Israel’s government is gifting itself. Though we have no shortage of disagreement about whether these powers are legitimate, the one thing everyone acknowledges is that they are definitely being expanded.

Still, it reeks of folly to expect meaningful help from those who don’t serve in the army, don’t send their kids to the army, don’t pay taxes in shekels and don’t even have the right to vote.

What’s most ironic though is that other than the right to vote, I just described the majority of Jews in Israel’s government who are leading this expansion of powers.

While the prime minister and defense minister are decorated soldiers whose military service is without question of great valor, the fierce opposition from many others in the military is largely connected to one fact – the half dozen or so senior ministers pushing for the harshest military actions, and legislating themselves the needed power to do so, have a combined military service of exactly 14 months.

All of them served by a man who was arrested in 2005 by Israel’s secret service for planning to use 700 liters of gasoline to blow up cars on Tel Aviv’s main highway. Remember that when people claim the Gaza Disengagement protests were largely peaceful. They were not.

Religious nationalist opponents of the Disengagement did not politely fold their arms when presented with a decision voted on by the parliament, executed by the government and – most importantly – upheld by the High Court. Many soldiers from this camp did indeed refuse to serve. Others attacked IDF soldiers with acid, sending them to the hospital. Two not-so-peaceful protestors carried out murderous terrorist attacks against Arabs hoping to spark further bloodshed.

The Gaza Disengagement is not the only false analogy being bandied when discussing the current protests. Those trying to draw parallels to anything happening in the US need to stop viewing Israel through a Biden/Trump/Obama conspiratorial lens. It sounds very silly in Hebrew.

Nobody in Israel disputes the election results or the government’s legitimacy at this point. What people are protesting is the pace and substance of a legal overhaul which they see as a threat to the State of Israel’s independence, no less dangerous than any other.

The argument that the current reforms represent the will of the majority is an outright lie. Whether or not you believe the reforms would be a positive development for Israeli society, the majority of Israeli citizens emphatically do not. Polls show 1 in 4 support them, including only half of Likud voters, who largely voted on the issues of cost-of-living and security, with judicial reform much further down the list.

Attempts to paint those against the reforms as “leftists” ring especially hallow when among the non-Israelis opposed to the legislation are lifelong supporters of Netanyahu such as Alan Dershowitz, Irwin Cotler, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former American Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, among Bibi’s closest and most right-wing allies, who said of the reforms, “That to me is offensive to my idea of how courts should work. You compare this to the US, but it doesn’t work like that in our system.”

Agree with them or not, all of them are Diaspora Jews and all have a right, if not a duty, to express their opinion on issues that affect the Jewish people as a whole, especially in the areas of law and economics in which they are amongst the foremost experts in the world.

As do any supporters of the reform.

I’m not one of them, but feel free to make your arguments wherever you are in the world. There’s little debate about the need for some kind of judicial reform to balance out Israel’s overly activist courts. It’s been a subject in the Israeli discourse for decades and most people are on board for common sense changes.

But the value and legitimacy of your arguments, whether made from inside the borders of Israel or across oceans and continents, end exactly at the line where you feel emboldened enough to attack IAF pilots for exercising their legal right to protest – a right they’ve far more than earned.

And just to be clear, all they are doing is protesting. No pilot has refused to serve. Reserve pilots who still fly on a completely voluntary basis announced that they would continue operational flights but stand down from training flights. You may not agree with their actions, but the only people with enough standing to criticize them fairly are the people who have stood in their shoes.

These pilots who voluntarily leave their children sleeping in bed while they fly under the cover of darkness pounding Iranian targets in Syria, Hamas tunnels in Gaza, and will most likely be taking out a third nuclear program in Iran, are the Jews we owe our lives to. The ones who risk theirs regularly to defend the independence of the Jewish state and the freedom of the Jewish people.

Are the brave Diaspora Jews dropping verbal bombs against Israelis fighting for their country, literally and figuratively, not the least bit embarrassed to call an IDF soldier a “traitor,” let alone a “coward,” while sitting thousands of miles away fighting internet wars, as a well-known Tablet editor is doing?

I challenge anyone to say it to their faces. Look into the eyes of an Israeli Air Force pilot – or any IDF soldier who chooses not to report for reserve duty (as they regularly do anyway regardless of the current protests) – and express the same facetiously macho opinions that flow so easily from behind a keyboard. The combination of cowardice and hypocrisy embedded in these attacks on our soldiers is where every self-respecting Zionist should draw the line of acceptable debate.

Jews who find themselves criticizing active soldiers, reserve soldiers, retired soldiers and future soldiers for doing everything in their legal power not to wake up one morning living in an illegal regime led by religious extremists who’ve never held a rifle – and are determined never to let their kids hold one either – have perfected cowardice and hypocrisy into an artform.

The least they could do is pretend to be ashamed.

About the Author
Yoni Leviatan is a British-born, American-raised, Israeli-blooded musician, content producer and writer. His songs have been licensed to MTV, CNN, ESPN, PBS and others while receiving nationwide airplay on over 200 American radio stations. His production work has led to projects with Warner Bros., Waves Audio, Abbey Road Studios, YouTube and Spotify. Originally from Coral Springs, Florida, he's been living in Tel Aviv since 2009 where he spends his free time writing about Israel and politics with articles featured in Newsweek, Times of Israel and The Forward.
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