If you want to understand why Israelis not only vote for right-wing governments but then insist on their leaders enacting wide-ranging reforms, look no further than an article in Makor Rishon—a small Israeli newspaper but the only one on the political right.
We’re all familiar with the many articles reporting on reserve soldiers signing letters announcing their refusal to report for reserve duty because they oppose judicial reform proposals now making their way through the Knesset. Hundreds have signed such letters, and they are reported on in frequent articles in all of Israel’s mainstream press—Maariv, Yediot Achronot, Israel Hayom, and, of course, Haaretz. If you read the mainstream Israeli press, you would be convinced that the reforms proposed had driven these people to strip the country of its ability to defend itself from its enemies.
Boy, would you be wrong.
The July 18 edition of Makor Rishon reports that similar letters were signed by more than 60,000 soldiers within one day. That’s right, 60,000. There’s just one difference: These letters announce the soldiers’ commitment never to refuse to serve on the basis of any political developments. One such letter announces:
We, women and men of the Research Division, declare that we will continue to serve our nation with love and devotion at all times, to defend the State of Israel under all governments. We will not refuse orders and will not set conditions for our reserve duty.
All of us advocate the principles of democracy, free expression and the rights of privacy. Among as people of the left and the right, secular and religious, women and men; our political opinions differ broadly, just as they did when we were full-time soldiers. We oppose bringing politics into the army and ask that Tzahal remain the army of all of us.
One of the soldiers who formulated this letter told the news outlet, “It appears to us a simple matter: We swore to Tzahal to follow orders without limitation or condition; and it just can’t be that some people think it’s possible to threaten a refusal to obey orders.”
Makor Rishon reports on another letter, this one signed by officers and soldiers of special combat units, saying essentially the same thing: “We, commanders and officers of special units who have signed below, have served in a wide range of special operations in various roles over the course of many years. We have decided to break silence and to step out of the shadows for a moment to say what should be obvious: We will continue to report in the reserves at any time that we are called.”
Displaying the virtue most highly prized, but rarely found, on the left—tolerance—these soldiers explain …
“ … in the system of special units there have always served people of both the left and the right, secular and religious, people from cities, from kibbutzim and from small towns. As in the rest of the Israeli community, there are among us people with different views. Some of us are pained by the steps the current government is taking and some of us are protesting them. Nonetheless, and despite any disagreement, we are obliged to continue to serve in the special units in any way we are asked, out of sense of duty and a recognition of the importance of the defense of our birthplace.”
Significantly, these soldiers who are actually in their units and who can see the actual impact of the widely reported refusals to serve, explain that, in fact, more soldiers have been reporting for reserve duty: “As far as is known to us, there is no lack in the level of reserve service—actually, the opposite is the case.”
These letters were put together, circulated and the tens of thousands of signatures gathered without millions of dollars in foreign support pumped through the New Israel Fund; without advocacy in their favor from the White House, the U.S. State Department or the U.S. Ambassador to Israel; and, obviously, without any mainstream media support. Yet within 24 hours, 60,000-plus reserve officers and soldiers signed. That number dwarfs the number of people—most of whom are reportedly too old to actually do anything meaningful as soldiers or airmen anyway—who have been lauded and garlanded in Israel’s newspapers for announcing that they won’t serve an army that serves a civilian government with which these brave souls disagree.
Now ask yourself: If you were a simple soul in Israel, and you read article after article in your own press reporting on refusals to serve by highly skilled people who claim they are the lifeblood of the army and then you read this, what would you think? Would you think that the majority of the country supports the refusal to serve? That the reforms were wildly unpopular?
Or would you conclude there are a handful of fancy people in Tel Aviv who are trying to control the country even after they’ve lost an election? That those people seek to maintain control through their positions in the media, and in proximity to foreign governments and foreign money, to conjure up the image of a mass movement, when it’s really only the bien pensent—a fraction of the secular minority—who would rather see a weak Israel they can control than a strong one they can’t?