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Refusal by elite IDF reservists angrily dismissed as 'political'

Following the public refusal of 43 reservists of the IDF’s 8200 intelligence unit, politicians and other veterans of the unit have openly denounced the reservists, viewing their refusal as an unacceptable politicization of their army service.

Political leaders both from the government and the opposition condemned 43 reservists from Israel’s prestigious 8200 intelligence unit who stated their refusal to take part in intelligence-gathering activities that, they claim, deepen Israel’s military rule over Palestinians. Unlike the issue of refusal during Protective Edge, which was hardly noticed or covered during the war, the 8200 letter grabbed headlines over the weekend, appeared on most major news Internet sites, and was one of the lead stories in television news.

Prime Minister Netanyahu encouraged the unit to continue its important work for the security of Israeli citizens. Haaretz reports that Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon called the letter “an attempt to harm the unit and its activities.” He said the move was a deplorable attempt to assist the “campaign of delegitimization” against Israel and the IDF.

Yariv Levin, the Likud chairman of the governing coalition, repeated a common accusation from the Right equating opposition to the occupation with support for terrorism. In a comment likely to elicit guffaws from Palestinians living under Israeli military rule, Levin, a veteran of unit 8200, told Maariv, “One who refuses to assist in guarding his country crosses the border between those who support Israeli democracy and the freedom it represents, to the terror-supporting Palestinian side, and attacks the innocent citizens of Israel.”

Israeli army soldiers take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. [File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli army soldiers take part in the search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank town of Hebron. [File photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

However, the members of the opposition and people associated with the mainstream Left also clamored to decry the reservists’ refusal.

Both the current leader of the opposition Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog, also a 8200 veteran, and the former head of the Labor Party Shelly Yachimovich condemned the letter at length.

Herzog stated that he opposes refusal, and said that the citizens of Israel would pay a price for such calls. But Yachimovich went further, lashing out first of all at the signatories themselves. On her Facebook page she essentially argued that they were arrogant for writing as if they are superior in Israeli society based on the prestige of the unit. Noting that they gain invaluable skills and enjoy shining career possibilities, they ought to be grateful rather than critical, she wrote.

Yachimovich did not seem to consider that the reservists might have felt a responsibility precisely because they are privileged, to consider those less fortunate; or that they may resent building their promising careers on what they view as the destruction of another society.

The reactions from Labor highlight a growing chasm between those who consider themselves left wing on social issues and because they support a two-state solution, and those whose “leftism” is expressed by urgency and action.

Thus friends who often take critical liberal and left-wing perspectives, wrote emotional posts on social media explaining their disapproval. Often the main accusation was that this refusal is “political.” Indeed, the response of both the IDF spokesperson and that of fellow reservists in 8200 who are opposed to refusal, quoted in Walla, was that that refusing duty is an unacceptable politicization of their army service. The Unit 8200 reservists against refusal stated:

Political refusal has no place in the army and in our unit specifically. From the moment we reserve soldiers are called to the flag, we put aside our political opinions and orientations and we come to serve the state.


Notwithstanding the real concern of mutiny or anarchy should an army act independently of political will, there is something quixotic about dismissing an act of refusal because it is political.

That’s what an act of refusal is, unless it is purely personal or religious. Refusal in this case is a statement of something that is already abundantly clear: The IDF’s role in this conflict is deeply political. Israelis are drafted into service as soldier-citizens, it is impossible to extricate politics from service, or draw a phantom boundary between them.

The soldiers sought no personal gain, no political points. If they were a party, they would have lost all their votes (this is probably what terrifies Labor and accounts for the over-protestations). If their identities become known, since little is truly secret in Israel, the glamorous economic, high-tech and – as seen clearly through this incident – high-flying political paths open to them might easily be closed.

Essentially, they stood only to lose from withdrawing from a system they believe is destroying both sides.

The exhortations to keep politics to the realm of demonstrations and public discourse smack of insincerity. For those who truly, genuinely want to end the 47-year military rule over millions of Palestinians, one thing is clear: Nothing so far has worked. In that context, demanding that activists limit their activities to those with no impact is merely embracing the occupation itself.

*Correction Appended: A quote has been removed because it was mistakenly cited from a personal Facebook page in which the setting was private.

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    1. bor

      “The soldiers sought no personal gain, no political points.”

      Um, this was all about scoring political points. Their thesis is that the “occupation” is terrible and horrendous and must be stopped whatever it takes (let’s call it the Noam Sheizaf Theory), so the did something that virtually everyone else who has served in the same unit finds reprehensible.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard

      This piece is a perfect example of what’s wrong with +972. You guys want to support the 43 signatories, but you can’t just do that in a straightforward, honest way – you have to accuse their critics of not being “sincere,” or being “quixotic.” The first characterization is backed up by no logic whatsoever (since opposing refusal is perfectly consistent with wanting to end the occupation – one could even argue that refusal serves the occupation), and the second is intellectually dishonest – you know perfectly well that opposition to “political” refusal is based on a sanctified view of military service, not a misunderstanding of what “political” means in the context of refusal (your actual, very silly argument). This is an interesting story and its irritating that you can’t just write honestly and coherently about it, and that you have to weave and dodge, ignore logic and split hairs. Its precisely the issue with BDSers that Chomsky can’t deal with.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Tzila

      Undeniable, once more and not the last,we can see the now fascistic Israeli society.
      What a case !

      Reply to Comment
      • bor

        Um, they’re in an army unit and writing in the army unit’s name. The army isn’t a democracy.

        That’s without getting into the fact that it appears that many, many more members of that unit vehemently reject the claims of these 43. It’s interesting that others haven’t come out to support them, isn’t it?

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      • I can’t agree that this case displays fascist tendencies in Israel. The reservists signed their names to the letter, and not a thing has happened to them that violates their rights. They will possibly be summoned to disciplinary hearings and could be removed from the unit. But they will not go to jail, be punished, placed under house-arrest, disappeared or anything of the like. So I think using that description in this case sort of cheapens the idea of fascism.

        Reply to Comment
        • bor

          No, Dahlia, her comment cheapens the idea of Israel and its society.

          Reply to Comment
        • Tzila

          The case doesn’t display fascistic ideas,the fascistic atmosphere exists already in Israel. I’m not sure that their life is going to be for them as it was before even “if they don’t go to jail,be punished,placed under house-arrest ,disappeared or anything of the like”, of course not, it’s going to happen with more “subtility”, their letter was wide published in the world.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Bruce Gould

      The reservists statement is weak stuff – for a better example of soldiers spilling the beans on what they do go to the “Breaking the Silence” website and start watching testimonials. Then call up the group and ask to speak write or speak to a soldier directly. It IS psossible to wean yourself away from the clouds of words on your computer screen and talk to human beings.

      Reply to Comment
      • bor

        Indeed. You should start speaking to the tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers who reject “Breaking the Silence” and their views.

        Learn something, Bruce.

        Reply to Comment
        • Shannon

          Tens of thousands of German SS soldiers can’t be wrong. The majority is always right, god given law. No need to speak against their views.

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          • bor

            People compare Israelis to Nazis are either liars or idiots. Which are you?

            Reply to Comment
    5. Bruce Gould

      I just want to put out some resources that a lot of people don’t seem to be aware of, I’m not interested in “winning” internet arguments. The American Friends Service Committee has people on the ground in Israel and the West Bank – if your city has an AFSC office you can walk in and ask to speak to someone about the stuff that happens there. They can probably help you find some Palestinians to speak about their personal experiences (I heard some Palestinians speak about growing up under occupation at a temple nearby). You can call up the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions and ask to speak to the director, Jeff Halper. You can email B’tselem or Machsom Watch; there are live humans who can talk to you.

      Reply to Comment
      • bor

        Why would you only speak to people on the political fringes whose views are rejected by 90% of Israelis?

        Reply to Comment
    6. Leo

      Do not fear. Do not fear solidarity and brotherhood with them. Express your opinions. Do not give up your dreams for the land of Israel: it can still be a place of peace and brotherhood. Even if the man in front of you is your enemy and gives you every erason to hate him. These brave men understand this and look upon a higher and meaningful purpose.

      Reply to Comment
    7. jb willikers

      “…. or the reservists might have felt a responsibility precisely because they are privileged, to consider those less fortunate; or that they may resent building their promising careers on what they view as the destruction of another society.”

      or maybe their character is deficient having not found duty to ones country, and ones oath to protect and guard it as a sufficient reason to abstain from a publicity seeking self indulgence. Duty and honor are overcome by egotistical self-righteousness.

      Reply to Comment
    8. If wanting things to change for the better is “political”, then everything is political. This is not a dirty word. Being political siimply means being actively concerned for the well-being of one’s society and the world.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Tzila

      See definition of politics by Platon

      Reply to Comment