Nevertheless, I have some appreciation for conscientious objectors. First of all, because it’s the most difficult thing to do in our society—a nationalistic and oppositional society, with some vocal radicals, a society in which democratic views immediately rhyme with leftism, and in which free media is automatically compared to media encouraging a coup (“trying to replace the government without going through the ballot box,” as rightists accuse the journalist investigations on governmental corruption).
This is precisely the place where it is most difficult to rise up and do something that will turn you into an outcast and a leper. It takes courage to consciously turn yourself into an outcast. It’s not battlefield courage, but for many people mustering this courage requires much more.
I don’t think one is allowed to or should refuse to enlist. As I said, that’s not my way and I believe a state should sometimes use strong measures to defend its existence and its citizens. But what else can an 18-year-old person, who sees his state crushing another people for 50 years, do to try to open everyone’s eyes? And more importantly, not to take part in “abhorrent processes” like the ones “that took place in Europe in general and in Germany in particular,” as IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan said in his speech.
Senior defense establishment officials are saying even worse things behind closed doors. We are lucky to have people like Golan and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot here, but woe to a state in which the army and the intelligence community are the responsible adult, democracy’s gatekeeper.
The great movements against great injustices started off with individuals who did the exact same thing: Nelson Mandela in South Africa; Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon worker who leaked the documents that revealed the truth about the dire situation in Vietnam; Alex Livak, who photographed the terrorists on Bus 300, an affair which exposed horrible corruption.
Granted, the change has to come from the “ballot box.” The problem is that the excellent economic situation, the amazing miracle we have experienced with the Jewish mind—the start-up nation—blur any other feeling, creating an illusion that time is on our side, that everything’s okay, that we’re on the map and that we’re staying on the map, and allowing the government to blind all of us, to create enemies where there aren’t any, and to prevent us from seeing the difficult dangers generated by this reality.
Why are ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to serve in the army treated differently from conscientious objectors, who are at least willing to pay a price for their actions and aren’t milking our money to subsidize their lives in the yeshiva? Why is it legitimate for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and nearly all his predecessors) to include the ultra-Orthodox parties in his government but not the Arab parties, which represent a public whose difficult conflict between its people and its state is at least understandable?
It’s all related. The occupation and crushing of another people, with bills aimed at making law-abiding movements and organizations (The New Israel Fund, Yesh Gvul, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence) illegitimate and throwing them to the dogs; the horrible corruption spreading in the government; Ayelet Shaked’s war on the High Court—a talented justice minister who knows that what she wants to do conflicts with democracy, so she quietly and sophisticatedly erodes it. You cannot blatantly crush values of law, democracy and respect for the other in one place (the West Bank), and demand that the same values be upheld 25 kilometers to the west (inside Israel). It doesn’t work.
The occupation is a volcano that has already exploded in our face twice. And we had two prime ministers here who knew how to deal with what happened (although they were among those who led to that situation): Yitzhak Rabin, who realized there was no other way but to establish a Palestinian state, thereby ending the first intifada; and Ariel Sharon, who after defeating suicide terrorism in the second intifada, reached the conclusion that we must reach a peace agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. His stroke prevented him from receiving a Nobel Prize, and it prevented us from taking a different path.
The current leadership will lead us to the third explosion. I find it hard to believe that it will know how to deal with it. The conscientious objectors’ letter must raise a red flag, which might prevent this explosion.