Merriam-Webster says that the transitive verb “endanger” means “to bring into danger or peril.” I never thought I would type the following sentence, but here goes: The courageous, self-sacrificing IDF reservists who are now refusing voluntary service to protest policies of the current government are endangering—that is, bringing into peril or danger—all Israeli citizens. And it is wrong to express one’s political views in a way that necessarily endangers other people.
As an American, I’ve long felt that it is inappropriate for me to weigh in on issues that directly concern only Israelis. Many other Americans, I would note, have not been so reluctant. What is more, some political leaders of the Israeli opposition have even invited Americans to join the fray, presumably because it is expected that Americans will be opposed to the government’s proposals.
For myself, I’ve refrained for two reasons. First, it seems wrong to express opinions when one would not have to live with the consequences if one’s opinions were given effect. Secondly, the Israeli political system is very different from America’s, and I’m not confident that I understand the former well enough to have sound opinions.
But the issue of IDF reservists refusing to report for voluntary duty is a different, unique case. Those refusals are so obviously wrong on all counts that, even though I’m an ocean and a sea removed, I must urge protesting reservists to think again.
I want to emphasize that I am most definitely not taking any position on whether or not the “reasonableness” law that has passed, or any other laws that have been proposed, are good or bad for Israel. I’m voicing an opinion about one thing and one thing only: the refusal of some IDF reservists to report for voluntary duty as a form of protest against the current government’s agenda.
The protesting reservists are acting improperly and wrongly because it is always—in every case—wrong to express an opinion by putting someone else in danger. And that is exactly what the protesting reservists are doing. Indeed, that is the entire thrust of that particular form of protest.
The protesting reservists are in effect saying that, if the government does not agree to act in conformity with their opinions regarding judicial reform and perhaps other matters, the reservists will continue to act in a way that everyone understands increases the likelihood that Israel will be attacked by external enemies and, in consequence, that Israeli citizens will die. That is the harsh, ugly reality of the message conveyed by reservists’ refusals.
That harsh, ugly message is completely out-of-bounds; it should never be delivered. There has been plenty of loose talk about Israel’s government being a dictatorship or being on a path towards dictatorship, but that is in fact loose talk.
Israel is not a dictatorship. People have been out in the streets in huge numbers to express their opposition to the Netanyahu government. Those demonstrations haven’t triggered a Tiananmen Square response; there haven’t been massacres of hundreds of protestors. Instead, the government has acted to clear highways. That hardly smacks of dictatorship.
The current government is in power because it was able to form a majority coalition in the Knesset; the opposition represents a minority. If the coalition holds together, the government will serve for four years; if it doesn’t hold together, it will be less.
It’s in the nature of a democracy that the party or parties that represent a majority of voters passes laws. It isn’t unique to Israel that a majority might pass a law that the minority finds objectionable. That happens in every democratic government.
What might be unique to Israel, however, is the emergence of a cohort of soldiers who are refusing voluntary service in order to pressure the government to alter its agenda. I cannot remember any other instance in recent times when, in a country with a democratic government, soldiers acted to influence the government by refusing to serve as soldiers. Can you think of any such instance?
Of course, it is probably true that the IDF relies more heavily on voluntary service than any other armed force in the world. Because the reservists serve voluntarily, they are not under any legal obligation to serve. And therefore, they cannot be punished if they do not serve.
But even though service is voluntary, the message that is conveyed by the protesting reservists is just the same as if they had an obligation to serve. That message is: If the government doesn’t change course to suit us, we’re ready to put the safety and well-being of all Israelis at risk—we’re ready to endanger every Israeli.
The protesting reservists are undoubtedly numbered among Israel’s most courageous defenders. It is heartbreaking to think they could choose such a fundamentally mistaken course of action. Yet, they have chosen just such a course—one that is mistaken, misguided, and wrong. I hope and trust no permanent damage has yet been done. The protestors can choose another path before such damage occurs. I urge them to do so.