These are tense days in Israel, even by Israeli standards. Not since the days before the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the uprooting of 8,000 Israelis from their homes have there been such tensions and the tangible threat that Israelis may use violence against their brothers to promote political aims.
Amongst the seemingly endless avalanche of letters of protest and warning, petitions by professional organizations and open letters by Israelis and foreigners alike against the government’s planned reform of the outsized and illegal reach of the judiciary, one special group of “formers” has me very worried. It is a group I myself belong to: The generals.
For anyone following Israeli affairs or living in Israel, it’s abundantly clear that the most powerful unifying factor in Israel is our military. The IDF is where Israelis from almost all walks of life meet and interact with each other for the first time in their lives. It is the proverbial melting pot of Israeli society and the most respected and trusted national institution by a tremendous margin. It’s the last sacred cow in a society that is increasingly polarized.
In recent weeks, former senior IDF officers, some of them opposition politicians, have crossed red lines and actively compromised our social cohesion and the founding principles of our national security. By threatening not to serve in the reserves, calling on serving officers and soldiers to revolt against the government, explicitly threatening to use violence and cynically appropriating unit names and insignia in vain, these former generals are doing our enemies’ work by exposing the very core of Israeli security to sectarian strife.
As someone who served decades in what is probably the farthest you can get from a democratic organization—the military—I find these generals’ sudden self-proclaimed expertise in democracy and due process questionable to say the least. I am a believer in our national institutions and our democratic processes, in civil discourse and public debate. Our national and ancestral DNA is one of debate, questioning and sometimes quarreling, but not of civil war and fratricide.
This government was democratically elected, enjoys a stable majority in the Knesset and has presented a plan to recalibrate the checks and balances between the various branches of government. Many Israelis, including opposition politicians, feel that these checks and balances have been unlawfully altered by the judiciary. I am not a legal expert, but it doesn’t take an expert to see that this government is playing the democratic game by the book and following the rules to the letter—as it should.
When Israeli President Isaac Herzog proposed his mediation plan to calm the situation and facilitate negotiations in order to avoid what he called “societal collapse,” he addressed the concerns of both sides. In his proposal, he effectively substantiated and ratified the government’s plan and the logic that underlies it. Herzog asked only for adjustments and a democratic debate on the details and specifics of the reform. This should, in my mind, serve as the clearest indication of how timely and well-defined the judicial reform proposal actually is.
I call on my brothers in arms from the various security forces not to topple the pillars of our common existence and expose us all to external threats. Keep your words and actions within the realm of democratic discourse, and don’t forget that, whatever the fate of this or any government plan, we and our children are in this together.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi is the founder and chairman of the Israel Defense and Security Forum, an NGO of over 17,000 former members of the Israeli security forces that promotes Israeli national security through research, education and outreach.