In his ignorant op-ed published in Princeton University’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, Braden Flax disparaged the moral character of former Undergraduate Student Government (USG) presidential candidate David Esterlit for serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Flax argued that Esterlit was complicit in the suffering of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and is therefore unfit to lead the student body. This premise is the complete opposite of reality; it is precisely because Esterlit served in the IDF that he is well-suited to lead Princeton’s student government.
As far as the arguments presented by Flax against Israel and the IDF, some glaring inaccuracies must be addressed.
Firstly, Flax argues that the IDF is “known for the torment and abuse of an entire population of human beings,” referring to the Palestinians. True, the Palestinians are indeed suffering from rampant poverty, unemployment and a lack of basic resources. Ironically, though, the chief perpetrators of this systematic oppression are the Palestinian leaders themselves, not the IDF.
In the Gaza Strip, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas runs the lives of the citizens with an iron fist. Instead of investing in proper education, water desalination, sewage or medical facilities, Hamas spends much of its funds every year on the construction of terror tunnels and rockets solely for the purpose of slaughtering innocent men, women and children in Israel. Of course, we must not forget Hamas’s crackdown on protesters, which drew well-deserved condemnation from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations.
Similarly, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank provides stipends to convicted terrorists, known as the “pay-for-slay” policy (far more than they’ve invested in their social-welfare system). Last, but certainly not least, infighting between the two ruling Palestinian factions has resulted in an “election drought” of more than a decade.
Flax concludes this (un)enlightening piece by unabashedly stating that the IDF “continuously inflicts injustice that dwarfs proportions of anything most of us have ever encountered.” In a world filled with such horrific acts of discrimination, violence and terror, singling out the IDF as a human-rights aggressor is itself discriminatory and distracts from countries that commit true atrocities against their people.
Considering the ethical dilemmas faced by the IDF, it admirably overcomes these challenges through its code of ethics. Not only does this code aim to minimize collateral damage through a stringent “purity of arms” policy, but it also helps inculcate virtues in its servicemen and women, such as restraint, responsibility, discipline and the sanctity of human life.
In Gaza, terrorist organizations like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad hide weapons and rocket silos in heavily populated areas, often schools and hospitals, effectively turning civilians into human shields. This strategy has two purposes: to deter Israeli forces from destroying their weaponry and to maximize Palestinian casualties in case the IDF does target the facilities.
As a response to this heinous strategy, the IDF developed its “knock on the roof” policy, wherein the IDF warns Gazans of impending attacks by firing small mortars on their facilities, signaling them to flee. They also call phones, send text messages and drop leaflets from the air warning people to evacuate the area. Often, this results in the terrorists escaping as well. In other words, the IDF places more importance on saving the innocent than eliminating a terrorist threat, even if that threat will attempt to harm them another day.
Additionally, between the years 2016 and 2018, IDF soldiers risked their very lives by rescuing thousands of Syrian refugees from the genocidal regime of President Bashar Assad in what became known as “Operation Good Neighbor.” Once brought back to Israel, these refugees received food and medical treatment courtesy of Israel. How many militaries would risk the lives of their soldiers to save civilians from an enemy state hell-bent on its destruction?
It’s worth noting that when Israeli soldiers do break the rules of engagement, they are punished accordingly by the Israeli Military Court. This is exactly what occurred in the high-profile and highly controversial case of IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who shot and killed an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist. Despite attempting to slaughter soldiers mere moments beforehand, the terrorist was technically “off-limits” once he was disarmed. As such, Azaria violated the rules of conduct and was sentenced to prison.
The IDF is a military worthy of praise—not only for its tremendous moral fiber, but for punishing those who do not meet their moral standards. Thankfully, some have stood up for Esterlit’s defense by pointing out, among other things, that he spent his service protecting innocent Israelis and Thai workers on the Egyptian border from ISIS cells in the region.
But that isn’t enough. We must ensure that students at Princeton and every other university know that they would be lucky to have leaders like Esterlit, who have had these fundamental values drilled into them, day in and day out, by one of the most moral militaries on the planet.
Eitan Fischberger is an activist and veteran of the Israeli Air Force. Follow him on Twitter @EFischberger.