Can you run an army where soldiers can refuse orders?Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett set off a firestorm on Friday, when he suggested that soldiers refuse orders to expel Jews from their homes. That's been a burning issue since the 2005 Gaza expulsion when a very few soldiers refused orders. The reason it's such a burning issue is that with the IDF's officer corps being 40% religious, there are doubts whether, if a Prime Minister ever gave the order to expel Jews from their homes, there would be enough soldiers to carry it out.
“If I am ever given an order to evacuate a Jew from his home… personally, my conscience won’t allow me to do it; I’ll ask my commander to grant me an exemption, [but] I won’t call for [mass] insubordination,” Bennett said during a heated conversation with Channel 2 interviewer Nissim Mishal (a full video of the Hebrew interview can be found here).
Further pressed about the values he instilled in his soldiers as an officer in the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, Bennett said: “I taught them that a command that’s topped by a black flag should not be carried out.” The “black flag” terminology refers to the IDF ethos that an order that is patently illegal must not be obeyed.
“To kick people off of this land is a terrible thing; I’ll do whatever it takes to prevent it from happening again,” Bennett stressed, alluding to Israel’s unilateral 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip and removal of four settlements in the northern West Bank, during which thousands of Israeli settlers were evacuated from their homes.
“I’ve been a soldier for 22 years, I led soldiers into battle…. Don’t lecture me about what I can and can’t do,” said Bennett, who still serves as a major in the IDF reserves. “Conscientious objection is an intrinsic part of being a soldier.”
Still, he continued, the Jewish Home party, which, he stressed, was full of former officers in elite infantry units, “will accept the will of the politicians…. We’ll consult with rabbis, but we’ll make our decisions in the political realm.”
Bennett has since walked back his words. But maybe he should not have walked it back so quickly, because as I highlighted above, the IDF does recognize circumstances in which orders should not be obeyed.The indignant reactions weren’t long in coming.
Moshe Feiglin has a brief post on his Facebook page (link in Hebrew, translation below) in which he backs Bennett's initial conception.
The idea that a soldier or citizen in any circumstance must heed any law or order is blatantly opposed to the entire concepts of Judaism, freedom and democracy.
Specifically in the Jewish state, and especially on the day of the General Kaddish [the national date of mourning for murdered Jews whose date of death is not known with certainty], it is worthwhile for all of us to remember to what point it is possible to lead people who ignore the commands of their conscience.
I always supported conscientious objectors who were willing to suffer (real) punishment, both from the Left and the Right. They are not causing the army and the state to disintegrate, but just the opposite. They are setting out moral limits for us and are creating a more value-based and stable society.
And believe it or not, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who expelled all the Jews from Gaza, agreed. Or at least he did in 1995.
Let's go to the videotape.
So what was the big deal about Bennett's comments? Sharon said what he did in 1995 - before the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin. Since Rabin's assassination, we have a paranoia in Israel that every time someone opposes the government over an issue, they are going to foment violence and attempt to murder the Prime Minister or another high-ranking government official. That paranoia is itself a creation of Israel's Left, and particularly the media, which uses it to suppress opposition to heir favored policies.
Sound familiar Americans?