Gideon Israel
Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center

Naftali Bennett Was Right

Since the period of the disengagement from Gaza (2005), where more than 20 Jewish communities were uprooted, the issue of a soldier disobeying an order has become a hot topic in public discourse; especially when there is a possibility that a Jewish town might be uprooted or destroyed in the near future.  This topic, when discussed, be it at a conference, panel, TV shows, or political campaigns, is posed as follows: Is a soldier permitted to refuse an order received by a commander? This question apparently is a heated, legitimate discussion where arguments can be tossed around by both sides.  Yet, in reality, the way the question is posed implicitly favors one side, and almost always puts proponents of the other side on the defensive.  Moreover, the way the question is formulated makes discussion on the topic literally impossible.

The discussion or question should be presented as follows:  When should a soldier receive a punishment if he/she refuses an order or what happens when a soldier refuses to follow an order because it goes against his conscience?  This way the discussion shifts from the absurd question of whether a soldier can refuse the order – and whoever answers yes is essentially advocating anarchy – to a more realistic one of discussing how to deal with soldiers who disobey orders and why, which can be argued by both sides.  Whether a soldier is allowed to refuse an order is simple: yes and no.  No, because he is in the army and in an army one of the rules/laws is that orders are followed.  A very logical rule since that is necessary for an army’s existence without chaos.  But, yes, like any violation of the law, he may refuse to obey an order if he is ready to accept the consequences.  A person can also steal knowing full well that it is illegal, if he is ready to accept the consequences.  If the soldier thinks the order is morally wrong, than yes he can also refuse the order; the only difference is that he might not be punished because someone of higher rank might agree (post-event) that the order given was indeed wrong, thus making the disobedience retroactively not illegal.

The public discourse of whether a soldier can refuse an order is a clever ploy by those who are attempting to disarm the view that one may choose not to fulfill an order to uproot a Jewish village based on conscience.  It’s clever because when the discussion starts, the one who advocates refusing an order is immediately scolded: “What! You advocate refusing an order; what about democracy, rule of law, anarchy, bla bla bla”; when in reality the person doesn’t believe  in refusing orders as a blanket statement, but rather in very specific instances where the order is against one’s conscience and morally questionable.  And there he also doesn’t look to regulate disobeying army orders; instead he just wants to clarify that in specific cases of morally questionable orders the soldier may not deserve punishment.  In short:  a soldier refusing an order is violating an army law and will suffer the consequences, but in some rare instances might be exonerated after the fact by a higher ranking commander who agrees that the order was problematic.   But just try explaining that position to an angry mob egged on by moderators and TV hosts who demonize this person as an enemy of the state.

That is exactly what happened to Naftali Bennett who was subject to a media lynch for his comments on disobeying orders.  He tried to do the impossible- explain his position on disobeying an order that goes against one’s conscience and when there might be cause for such an action.  Yet, he was setup by TV anchor Nissim Mishaal and slam-dunked by about everyone in the political arena. If the discussions focused on the real issue of “when should a soldier receive punishment for disobeying an order and when not“, then the whole discourse on the subject would be much more civilized and genuine; and the public would be less subject to populist media, smokescreen brainwash that dresses itself in intellectual hypocrisy using political science slogans who users have no clue of their actual meaning.




About the Author
Gideon Israel is the Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center which focuses on strengthening US-Israel relations through mutually beneficial policy projects.