Civil, Not Military, Disobedience

Beyond the pale of religious-Zionism.

Danny Hershtal,

OpEds guest
Arutz 7
On Tuesday night, the 24th of Tevet, January 1, an emergency conference was called to coalesce the right-wing groups and make a united stand against a planned expulsion similar to the Gaza "disengagement." On the surface, the idea was an excellent one; to
Statements such as those made by Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe... only encouraged the media to paint a darker picture of the event.
act before any definite withdrawal plans had been put in place. However, as the night progressed, the speakers drifted beyond the pale of religious-Zionism, trampling on the ideals that many of the participants once held dear.

Three issues most disturbed me about this conference:

1) The veiled threat against political leaders' lives;
2) the call for soldiers to declare their willingness to disobey expulsion orders; and
3) the "rejection" of the government.

The veiled threats against the lives of political leaders, as indirect as they may have been, were clearly intentional - meant to capture the coverage of the mainstream media. Other than that, they did nothing for the cause. I am positive that almost all right-wingers would be happy to see Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon retire, without wishing upon them any bodily harm. Statements such as those made by Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe, invoking Nazi collaborators and public hangings, only encouraged the media to paint a darker picture of the event; as if the Israeli media needed more excuses to deride the right wing.

Even more foolhardy was the preemptive declaration that soldiers would refuse orders. Earlier that same day, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee had released a report about the military during the Second Lebanon War without mentioning the failures of the political class. Right-wing politicians and leaders were the most vehement critics of these omissions, but this declaration is a similar abdication of responsibility, in which the right-wing leadership attempts to place its own responsibility on the military. If soldiers are ordered to forcibly remove Jews from their homes in the coming weeks, it will be a failure of the right-wing leaders and politicians, who failed to nullify the order. To attempt to place the burden of this failure on the shoulders of our sons is a dereliction of responsibility no less than that of Ehud Olmert or Amir Peretz in the face of the war's outcome.

I can understand the motivation of a soldier to refuse a cruel order based solely on political considerations, but for the right-wing political establishment to force that soldier, in advance of any order, to declare that he will refuse, only puts that soldier in a difficult position with his commanders and peers.
I also think that the majority of the supporters of this declaration did not fully appreciate the implications for right-wing and religious soldiers. Is it not conceivable that if a large number of soldiers were to sign the declaration, then the army could justify canceling the Hesder program? Why would anybody allow soldiers into its army if they came from an academy that preached refusal of military orders? Wouldn't religious soldiers become suspect within their units? Won't soldiers holding right-wing opinions be shunned and, thus, less likely to influence their peers?

Of these questions, the first is the most crucial. The Hesder program, combining yeshiva study and military service, has been a win-win situation for the religious-Zionists and the rest of the State. The yeshivas have produced quality Torah scholars, who are nationally admired for also being dedicated soldiers. To endanger this valuable program is to endanger both the defense and the Torah observance of Israel.

The declaration makes clear that the only orders that should be refused are those that involve removing Jews from their homes or turning land over to Arabs. However, it is a dangerous precedent to put decisions of following orders into the hands of the average soldier. This can cause a chaos under which no army in the world can function.
Even more foolhardy was the preemptive declaration that soldiers would refuse orders.
Furthermore, this will lead to further draft dodging, which will lessen the army's ability to effectively defend the country. Encouraging soldiers to disobey any order weakens the army and the defense of the country.

The most grievous error that was made at the conference was the pronouncement "rejecting" the government. No one at this meeting was an Olmert supporter. There was no point to this pronouncement, which came just shy of rejecting the concept of Israeli government in its entirety. Not surprisingly, these pronouncements were encouraged by those leaders who have implicitly backed the option of creating a religious state in Judea and Samaria, to be known as the State of Judea. Unfortunately, this was the subtext of the meeting.

A few speakers, such as Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad, spoke about practical acts of civil disobedience against government policies. But civil disobedience implies the supremacy of the authority - civil disobedience is a message to those in power that that the people think they are wrong, that they should cancel a law or that they should be replaced; yet, as long as they remain in place, the government's word is the law.

Pronouncements rejecting the supremacy of the government, declarations meant to weaken the army and its arrangement - hesder - with the religious-Zionist public, and incendiary statements that make the government want to sever all connections with the right-wing are meant to separate the people from the state. This is beyond the pale of Zionism. This is against the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak and of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. This is the destruction of religious-Zionism.

So what? Rabbi Wolpe may be pleased to tell me that he is not a Zionist. However, the right-wing, which consists mainly of Zionists, students of Jabotinsky and Begin, or of Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Shmuel Chaim Landau, have allowed Rabbi Wolpe and his compatriots to lead the right-wing cause.

I am not a rabbi, so I should probably not claim that this division of the Jewish people is also totally against the will of the prophets. But Amos, Yishayahu and Yirmiyahu considered the division of the State into Israel and Judea to be the greatest tragedy of the period. Yechezkel prophesies that once the two parts of the staff are united, they will not be two nations or two kingdoms ever again. But I am not a rabbi, so I will leave that argument aside.

However, from a political and ideological perspective, anyone who joins in this cause must be very wary lest he become swept up in severing his relationship to his ideals and to the state. While the nationalist camp must unite to fight the dangerous moves proposed by this government, should we entrust the leadership of the national front to those who would destroy the nation?