I recently posted an opinion piece entitled “There Must Be 15 Whys to Leave Netanyahu,” and those of you who read it might remember that the essay was inspired by a Paul Simon song. This piece indirectly owes its origins to a picture.
A few weeks ago, my friend Pesach innocently shared a photo, uploaded by Daniel Gordis to Facebook back in 2015, that showed two soldiers who apparently were romantically involved.
I reacted by blowing a gasket, and I replied in a comment, referring to Netanyahu using what might politely be termed a pejorative three-letter acronym. I got sidetracked and didn’t get around to explaining the reason for my anger, and Pesach is probably still scratching his head in wonderment — as, I imagine, you are as well. So I will explain.
Pesach, as a somewhat recent oleh whose command of Hebrew is “a work in progress” — he’s a nice, laid-back guy, and I’m sure he’s not offended by the description — probably didn’t fully grasp or even read what Gordis had written in the text accompanying the picture. And although Gordis is somewhat right-of-center himself, he had responded angrily to an assertion Netanyahu had made, a claim whose offensiveness compensated for its brevity:
“They have V-15, and we have ‘tsav-8.’”
Let’s decipher Mr. Netanyahu’s play on numbers to understand what had made Gordis highly annoyed, and which had turn had made me go ballistic.
We’ll start with V-15. This was a shadowy American organization that, in the runup to an election — thanks to Netanyahu’s repeatedly subjecting us to yet another round of elections in his ongoing attempt to escape justice, it has almost always seemed in recent years that we’re in a runup to elections, hasn’t it? — financed advertising that promoted Bibi’s main opponent.
It’s amusingly ironic that Netanyahu seems to have found objectionable what he’d probably term ‘foreign interference in Israeli elections,’ considering that since 2007, his friends the Adelsons have funded the free distribution of Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), a pro-Netanyahu propaganda sheet masquerading as a newspaper. Indeed, Netanyahu’s picture has appeared in the publication more often than Cindy Crawford’s photo has adorned the covers of all the leading fashion magazines combined.
But be that as it may. Let’s focus on the second half of the sentence, the part that’s really objectionable. And that requires some knowledge of how the callup system for reserve duty works in Israel.
Normally, when one is summoned for reserve duty, the soldier receives a notice in the mail at least a month in advance, so that he or she can make any necessary arrangements for their upcoming absence from civilian life. However, there’s an exception: in case of a national emergency, one may receive a ‘tsav-8,’ a notice to drop everything and immediately report for duty.
So Mr. Netanyahu was effectively saying that his supporters are the only ones who are prepared to answer the call and rally around the flag.
I became especially upset when I read this because Netanyahu’s outrageous statement made me recall two somewhat unpleasant reserve-duty stints, each of which belied his claim.
The first occurred at the start of the Second Intifada, when I was living in a yishuv that straddled the Green Line. I received a ‘tsav-8,’ along with several of my neighbors who were also in my Home Defense unit.
I soon discovered that the emergency call-up involved guarding not my own yishuv, but rather Kiryat Sefer, the large Haredi town just a mile or two away.
For the next two weeks, my friend Jerry and I, our loaded M-16’s at the ready, spent the hours between midnight and sunup patrolling a single three- or four-block stretch of road in the Brachfeld neighborhood that faced an Arab village.
Why, you may ask, if the good people of Kiryat Sefer believed that the security situation there was so tenuous, didn’t the Brachfeld residents patrol their own neighborhood? Well, for the simple reason that hardly anyone there had ever done any army service.
But it gets better — Jerry and I soon discovered that the town’s contracted security service was patrolling the very same stretch of road that we were. Apparently, the KS security chief felt, why have one car patrolling when two will do? This sense in a way when you consider that since the army was providing the second car, the cost wasn’t coming out of his budget — and better yet, two ‘freierim’ (roughly, ‘suckers’) from down for road were doing the actual driving.
Did I mention that the two Haredi political parties — the only ones that ‘The Rabbis’ authorize voting for in Haredi towns like Kiryat Sefer where almost no one does army service — typically have comprised almost twenty-five percent of Netanyahu’s coalitions?
The second reserve stint occurred a year later when the Second Intifada was still raging, but this time, a regular call-up was involved. But it was no less out-of-the-blue.
The army generally musters out reservists as they approach middle age, and to the best of my knowledge, soldiers in combat units are no longer called up once they hit forty. Since Home Defense wasn’t considered a combat unit, I still had to do a stint of reserve duty when I was forty-five. And this was the worst reserve duty I had ever done, driving a jeep across Samaria, eight hours on and eight hours off, for several days at a time. Although the jeep had a malfunctioning driver’s door, which tended to fly open at inopportune times, I was far more afraid of falling asleep at the wheel than I was of being attacked. So I was quite happy when I wasn’t called up again over the next few years, and as I approached fifty, I assumed that the army was done with me.
Well, I was wrong. The familiar but dreaded brown envelope with the black franking stamp showed up in my mailbox once more, a few months after I had turned forty-nine.
I soon found myself stationed at Tapuach, not Israel’s version of the Big Apple, but rather a small but radical settlement in Samaria, somewhat east of Ariel. When I wasn’t sitting in a guard tower on the yishuv itself at two in the morning — frequently dozed off, I have to admit — I had to guard nearby Tapuach Junction, one of the most dangerous intersections in the West Bank, as it lies just south of the very hostile village of Harawa.
Unfortunately for me, this was during the dog days of summer, and it was blazing hot in the shadeless intersection. We had one bullet-proof vest between us, worn by whoever was on guard duty, and it soon became permanently sweat-soaked.
To make matters worse, we had to be especially vigilant, because some of the settlers who lived in the area would defiantly stand in front of the protective concrete barriers the army had installed as if by doing so they were thumbing their noses at Palestinians driving by.
I eventually discovered the reason for my having been called up, and once again, it was due to others having shirked their responsibility.
Givat Zeev is an urban settlement just northwest of Jerusalem, a short drive from the outskirts of the Ramot neighborhood. The army had noticed that the residents’ turnout for reserve duty was disappointingly low, and so some officers had the idea of forming a local reserve unit, in the hope that pride-of-place esprit de corps would solve the problem. But when this unit was assigned to safeguard Tapuach and environs that summer, an insufficient number were prepared to go, requiring that the unit ‘borrow’ a couple of reservists from Home Defense — including one rather surprised forty-nine-year-old.
Did I mention that Givat Zeev is a Likud stronghold — that while the Likud marginally outpolled Kahol Lavan nationally in the last election, the ratio in Givat Zeev was four-to-one in the Likud’s favor?
“They have V-15, and we have ‘tsav-8.’”
Really, Mr. Netanyahu? This is a lie and a slander. And an insult to the tens of thousands of men and women who, when they were summoned — regardless of their political affiliation — immediately dropped everything, packed a bag, put on their army boots, kissed their loved ones goodbye, and headed off into a dangerous unknown.
You pathetically exemplify the old saw that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
And the most disturbing thing of all is that you yourself know that the claim was spurious, that you were lying through your teeth. The only thing that concerns you, especially before an election, is firing up your base, truth be damned.
You are the most divisive prime minister that Israel has ever had.
And that’s why my fondest hope is that in the wake of the upcoming election, a coalition will be formed that will flush you out of Balfour — you, along with the rest of your self-entitled family.
And may we never again have the likes of you as our prime minister.