JERUSALEM - The Supreme Court upheld on Wednesday the army’s decision to free the nephew of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the mandatory draft on grounds he was “unsuitable for service,” ending his three-year court battle to be determined a conscientious objector.
Yonatan Ben-Artzi, 23, was called to be drafted in 2000 and refused multiple offers for dismissals, because he had wanted to be freed on grounds of “pacifism,” which the army refused. He appealed to the court last year to order the army to state that as the official reason for his release.
The court rejected his appeal, saying an army-issued letter that was given to him and detailed the reasons for his exemption never explicitly ruled out any possibility that he may be a pacifist.
Ben-Artzi said that while he was not released on the grounds he preferred, he still regarded the ruling as a victory.
“My goal is to allow conscientious objection in Israel,” he told Ynet. “Even through (the decision) was in the army’s favor, there is no doubt that morally this is a ruling in my favor just like previous ones. The army’s unsuitable work, and its attitude toward conscientious objectors are repeatedly exposed.”
His lawyer, Michael Sfarad, said the ruling constituted a “technical victory for the army and a moral victory for Yonatan.”
Ben-Artzi has served 19 months in a military prison for “refusing orders” when he first declared he would not serve in the army because he was a pacifist, even though he offered to work in alternative national service that was unaffiliated with the military.
Contientious objectors denounced
Israeli men and women are required to enlist at age 18 and serve mandatory terms of 2-3 years, and men must serve several weeks a year in reserve units until their 40s. Cases where they refuse to be drafted are rare.
But conscientious objectors have made headlines in the Israeli press over the past few years in the wake of a five-year-old Palestinian uprising, and caused flares of both patriotism and disgust as both sides suffered hundreds of casualties in terror attacks and army operations.
Conscientious objectors oppose Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza, while those who claim to be pacifists denounce the concept of war all together. Under current military law, only women can receive exemptions from the army by declaring themselves as pacifists.
Left-wing activists and human rights groups have called such people heroes. Staunch right-wingers have called them cowards.
The army freed five Israelis in September 2004 after they served a year in a military prison for refusing to be drafted, but would not recognize them as conscientious objectors and issued them exemptions on grounds of being “unsuitable” for service.
“We were in prison for almost two years because our moral belief prohibits us from being part of an army occupying another people and destroying Israeli society,” one member of the group, Shimri Tzameret, said in the statement on the eve of their release.
The army fears troops and reserve soldiers will resist calls to duty during Israel’s planned pullout from the Gaza Strip this summer while stating a different type of objection - a refusal to remove settlers from all 21 settlements in the area.