The IDF’s Duty Is to Defend the Jewish State, Not the Politics of Its Loudest Protestors

September 6, 2023 | Kobi Michael and Gabi Siboni
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During the contentious debates this year over the Israeli government’s plan to reform the judicial system, there have been several statements by military reservists that they will refuse to attend their scheduled training sessions in protest. Most notable was a declaration to this effect by a group of elite pilots. Kobi Michael and Gabi Siboni explain why this tactic erodes the health of the Israeli body politic—as well as of the IDF:

The very fact of the threat—and certainly its implementation—nurtured the protest, whereby their actions injected a militaristic dimension to the protest and politicized the military, punctured the confidence that the political echelon and large portions of the Israeli population have in the military, undermined the values of volunteerism and unity within the IDF, and eroded Israel’s image of power and its deterrence. Their actions could lead Israel’s enemies to the false belief that this is an opportune time to strike Israel and to hasten an unwanted war.

The failure of the senior military leadership from the outset to sever the IDF from the protest and from the political realm means that the train has already left the station, creating a much greater problem for the military. [As a result], the IDF has been turned into a political tool and actor, as the culture of refusal to serve (according to the protesters: refusal to volunteer, and not refusal to obey a mobilization order; in our view: a unilateral violation by the reservists of the rules of service they agreed to is a refusal to serve) and media coverage of the phenomenon are viewed as an attempt to frighten the public and the political echelon in order to undermine the ability of the government and the Knesset to continue with the legislative process, to challenge the legitimacy of the government, and even to bring about its downfall.

Anyone who is anxious for the future of Israeli democracy must feel some discomfort when reservists drag the IDF onto the political field and into the heated political and moral debate over the essence of Israeli democracy, and when there are those who want to turn it into the “Democracy Defense Forces.” This is a clear militarization of the political space as much as it is a politicization of the army. Those fearful for the future of Israeli democracy must consider that while today the current protest against the judicial overhaul is led by reservists with a specific ideological outlook, tomorrow could see a protest against the government led by reservists with a very different set of values.

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