Today I was intrigued by an opinion editorial on HaAretz entitled “How telling the truth gets an Israeli soldier thrown in jail.” The article is about a lone soldier named Shachar Berrin that was punished by his commander for giving his opinion during debate of the motion: “the occupation is destroying Israel.”
The motion was debated by left-wing Meretz activist Uri Zaki and right-wing Dani Dayan, former leader of the Yesha Council, on a televised program called “The New Arab Debates,” moderated by former BBC journalist Tim Sebastion. The audience also participated by asking questions to the two activists, where Shachar questioned Dani Dayan and later stated his personal opinion.
According to HaAretz editorial staff, Shachar’s commander should have listened to his words instead of charging him for “participating as a soldier in a political meeting, in uniform and in the presence of the media, against army regulations.” Furthermore, the writers stated that the recording was neither a political meeting or interview. And lastly, the writers conclude that punishments like Shachar’s and procedures of silence allow the army to fulfil its “supreme goal” to shut critics up.
First, it is very clear from the wording of the motion that Shachar was in attendance of a political meeting. It is naive for the editorial staff to dismiss this major fact when the panel was introduced as a left and right-wing activist debating a politically charged motion. To add to the evidence that this was a political meeting, the self-proclaimed mission of “The New Arab Debates” as written on their website is “to invite a new generation to get involved in politics.” If the motion itself is not politically charged enough for the editorial staff at HaAretz, then I hope that the show’s mission suffices.
Second, Shachar was on uniform as his comments were recorded for the program. Just as the charges against Shachar state, it’s against the Israel Defense Forces’ rules to speak about political issues to the media on uniform. Just like in any military or business for that matter, all external affairs of the military are steered to an official spokesperson.
I’m intrigued by this article, because I too am a politically opinionated new immigrant. I also care about the future well being, safety, and security of my country. However, I know that there is a time and place to make comments. It is important as a soldier not to express political views in public or wear uniforms in any place that can be mistaken as such.
When a soldier makes a politically divisive statement in uniform, it ultimately harms the security of the state. I know that Shachar’s intention was not to do so, but how many anti-Israel groups will regurgitate his statements and use them out-of-context? Punishments should also be given out for instances of social media support by soldiers for incidents like last year’s famous youtube clip of “David ha-Nahlawi.” How many international ‘human rights’ groups around the world will take the social media support out-of-context?
To the editorial staff of HaAretz, Shachar is not going to jail because he told the truth; he is going to jail because he disobeyed IDF rules.
In order for Israeli citizens to have the right to speak about their opposing political views publicly in the future, it is important to have a strong unified military that handles disputes internally. The very reason that HaAretz can operate as a media outlet is because there is a standing unified military ready to defend Israel’s democracy at all costs, right or left.
For soldiers, the time will come when you will be civilians. It’s then that you will speak your minds, become activists, and change the world in your respective ways— but until then you’re soldiers.