Whatever the final outcome of the struggle opposing the legal agenda put forth by the Netanyahu government, one thing is overwhelmingly clear – the vitality of the movement has been a spectacular success. The passionate involvement of masses – and by no means just the young – and the multi-sectorial factors involved (judicial, financial, academic, security – the list goes on, and all this without a unified leadership) is as impressive as it is inspiring.
How has this come about in Israel today, and how much of it is a uniquely Israeli phenomenon? In fact, Israelis are singularly suited to this response. It has to do with our military service – more specifically, our reserve military service. Since its inception, the IDF has depended primarily on reserve forces. At any given time, the reserves make up from 2/3 to 3/4 of its enlistable manpower. (This helps explain the potency of the protest movement amongst the reservists.) But this is just the backdrop.
Unlike many armies that depend primarily on young recruits that can more easily be molded into “fighting machines,” the IDF depends to a large extent on adults who have already concluded their mandatory service and have become regular civilians.
After my mandatory service, I served another 23 years with a field command in the active reserves. Here I learned that though setting a personal example was important, it was not nearly enough. Under my command were serious individuals – businessmen, scientists, painters, plumbers, bank managers, farmers, truck, drivers, etc. All were adults and virtually all had families and responsibilities. Putting them in harm’s way is not quite the same as leading young men in such a position.
I quickly learned that the key to a successful command was demonstrating that your orders were logical and responsible. As soon as you were recognized with these qualities, discipline was close to automatic.
This explains much of the success of the protest movement to me. Israel is a country whose people are not likely to accept dictates that are illogical and dangerous just because those in power determine they are necessary. Leadership here is a dynamic process – a constant dialogue. If the leaders aren’t automatically trusted (and the fact that the present coalition is dependent on a number of fringe elements explains why), their decisions will be constantly challenged.
I see this as a direct result of Israel’s “Peoples Army”. The fact that former chiefs of staff have gone on record resisting the transition of the army from a People’s to a professional army reflects this. An activist population comprised to a great extent of reserve forces is likely to be more demanding of its leaders than in other societies. One may argue about the advantages of a People’s Army, but in this case, Israel’s social architecture is clearly contributing to the health of our society.