Israel’s Moment of Truth

By Ted Belman

In his excellent article, Way to Go, Refuseniks!, Rabbi Burton covers the history of IDF refusniks and concludes,

it is not the order of a rabbi that gave these soldiers the courage to refuse orders. It is the most primal intuitive understanding that expelling a Jew from his or her home by force is immoral. This understanding comes from the fact that Judaism, and loyalty to G-d and the Jewish People, are these soldiers’ highest values. The religious soldiers are amongst the IDF’s finest and boldest; they are of major value to the armed forces. But they were being told to adhere to secular values that conflict with the most basic Jewish values. They were forced to choose between the deformed new world order of the secular Israeli state–a value that supersedes all else for people like Gal-On and Rubenstein–and the Yiddishkeit that comes down to them from Abraham, who purchased Hebron 4000 years ago. And because they chose the latter, they necessarily become the most treasonous, despicable enemies of the State–never to enjoy the term “conscientious objector” like their left-wing counterparts. In the mind that is completely disconnected from real Jewish values, you can violate G-d and His people, but not the sacred IDF.

When a government becomes illegitimate it shouldn’t be followed. Of course it is not always easy to discern when the line from legitimate to illegitimate has been crossed. Is it enough not to have the support of the people? Many argue that once elected, leaders are expected to lead and not follow public opinion. I argue, only to a point.

The issue of keeping or giving away Judea and Samaria is so fundamental to Judaism and Zionism that a government at odds with the people is not legitimate. Fundamental principals are what wars are fought over.

Hannah Lerner, a friend of my daughter, recently wrote a paper as part of her PhD studies at Columbia U. entitled Constitution Building in Divided Societies. On page 17 she addresses Israel: On-going Conflict on the Definition of the Jewish State and goes on to explain the secular/religious divide made it impossible to draft a constitution right from the beginning.

The inability to reach a consensus between the religious-Orthodox and secularnationalist perceptions of the Jewish state led the leaders of Israel to decide in June 1950, a year and a half after the first Knesset was elected, to postpone the immediate enactment of a written constitution. Instead, it was stated in a compromise resolution known as “the Harari Compromise” after its initiator, the constitution would be constructed by means of
enacting individual basic laws, which eventually would be assembled into one constitutional document.

[..] The religious-secular conflict over the nature of the state was settled through non formal
means. The Declaration of Independence defined Israel by the arguably contradictory moniker of a “Jewish and democratic state.” The relationship between religious and state was determined through a set of informal consociational arrangements, where representatives of the secular majority agreed not to threaten the core values of religious factions through majoritatian decisions.

[..] Instead of seeing the making of the constitution as a moment of radical transformation, the framers preferred to view the process –at least around the religious questions – as a long-term one of gradual adjustment.

Second, the drafters’ acknowledgment that any unequivocal choices between the competing perceptions of religiosity and secularism in their state would destabilize the fragile democratic order, led them to challenge the principle of majoritarianism as the appropriate method of decision-making in rifted societies. Two kinds of arguments were raised against majoritarian decision-making during the Israeli and Indian constitutional debates – a pragmatic and a consensual one. Acknowledging the zealousness with which the clashing positions were held, the pragmatic argument against majority-vote rested on the assumption that any imposition of majoritarian decision on the minorities would result in an unavoidable inflammation of the conflict and destabilization of the democratic order. The consensual argument originated in the understanding that a legitimate constitution should rest on wide popular support for the ideals and norms entrenched in the document. Constitutions, thus, should represent general and broad consent, not merely the majority’s opinion. Despite the differences in the nuances of the debates, in both cases the drafters recognized that majoritarianism was limited in its ability to resolve conflicts over the most fundamental norms and ultimate goals of the state, particularly when religious sentiments are involved. Decisions over the very definition of the collectivity, its ultimate values and commitments should rest on a wide consensus.

This compromise is now being threatened by the Olmert government who wish to violate it on the basis solely that they are the elected government. But all governments are subject to the constitution, if any, or to the prevailing status quo.

It would appear then the the moment of truth is fast approaching. Israel can no longer defer the resolution of this seminal issue nor can it resolve it. It is just too fundamental.

So, it is in this context that we must determine if the government is legitimate or if the orders given, are illegal.

Sixty years ago, the framers of the constitution decided to defer the issue and maintain the status quo. Perhaps that is the best we can hope for.

IDF Eviction Refusal More Widespread Than Reported

30 percent support soldiers refusing pullout orders

August 9, 2007 | 14 Comments »

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14 Comments / 14 Comments

  1. I agree with much of what has been stated above. But in addition, I find the incomprehensible and despicable actions in Hevron beyond the scope of “legal or illegal orders.” To remove by force Jews from their property is to collaborate with the worst impulses of Islamofascist racism.
    While Israel brags about “the equal and democratic rights of its Arab citizenry,” it enforces the Juderein policies of the PA and all the surrounding Arab states!
    Not only is application of this policy brutal and definitely tragically un-Jewish, it is stupid to the highest (or is it to the lowest?) degree.

  2. Salomon,

    I do not see the current government as the root of Israel’s problem as you say.

    Rather I see the current Israeli government, just like prior Israeli governments as both a manifestation of and a contributing cause to the deeper problems that are dividing the house of Israel in terms of Israel’s ongoing and worsening identity crisis as to who and what Israel is and what it must have in terms of land and national identity to survive.

    I do not see these deep and fundamental issues being squarely confronted by Israeli leadership, be it Olmert’s ruling government, opposition MKs or leading voices in the Israeli community. All may at times gripe or muse about these fundamental issues, but no one is taking the lead to really deal with them.

    Left unattended, the divisiveness these issues are causing, is worsening and beginning to undermine the strength and certainty of self and purpose of Israeli society, be it militarily, socially and politically. Some of the first signs of this is seen as regards IDF soldiers refusing orders.

    Like you and many others including many Israelis, I too have concluded that Ehud Olmert and his Kadima government leaders are taking Israel down a dangerous path to peace, which can only end badly for Israel.

    There are many Israelis however who believe Olmert’s thinking, vision and policies are the right ones in all circumstances.

    So far Olmert has managed to retain his hold on power and so those Israelis who support his vision for peace are thrilled while those who don’t anguish over Olmert’s policies and are especially anguished that they have no champion to get their voices heard and Olmert removed.

    Given the obvious interconnections amongst Israel, Judaism, Jewish culture and the world Jewish community, the welfare of the world Jewish community is inextricably linked to the welfare of Israel.

    The deepening divisions within Israeli society at all levels and the failure to recognize and deal with them is therefore not just matter of concern for Israel. It is a matter of concern for all Jews.

    Though Olmert has little support, showing only single digit approval ratings, that disenchantment with Olmert does not necessarily mean that 90% plus Israelis are against the current peace paradigm that Olmert is wedded to as regards the Palestinians. Many Israelis no doubt support Olmert’s position as regards peace with the Palestinians, but are disenchanted with other aspects of his leadership.

    That said, E. Olmert and his Kadima party are currently in power and they do reflect the views of a great many Israelis and indeed diaspora Jews.

    For so long as Israel has no leadership to rally those Israelis who are against Olmert’s vision and policies for peace, there will be no one to challenge the Israeli government to address these core issues that are fracturing Israeli unity and in turn fracturing diaspora Jewish unity.

  3. Ted, in your post #6 you urged us to comment on the constitutional issue. I tried to address this matter by bringing up what I see as the fundamental question, i.e. the nature of the State of Israel.

    In your post #9, you go back to the question of insubordination of the IDF for religious reasons. This, to me, is not the real issue: it is only a symptom of the meandering ambiguities (dare I say “treacherous”?) that the successive dysfunctional governments of Israel have entertained for too long. So, I say, let’s deal with the fundamentals first, as any engineer would agree!;-)

    Bill clearly explained what is at the root of the problem, by pointing to a GOI which is leading the nation into a suicidal path. It seems that every Israeli politician abandons his/her campaign platform as soon as they form a government. This happened with Netanyahu, Barak, Beilin, Sharon, Lieberman, the Shas MKs, and countless others. And slowly, but relentlessly, they undermine the nation. This is not new:

    “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and he carries his banners openly. But the traitor moves among those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the galleys, heard in the very hall of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor – he speaks in the accents familiar to his victims, and wears their face and their garment, and he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation – he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city – he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared.”

    That was written by Cicero 2,050 years ago .

  4. My point was not to make a point, but point out that Rabbi Burton’s view required a deeper and broader analysis of the problem.

    It is pointless to guage whether the IDF officers who refused an order to remove some Jews from their homes or those officers earlier who refused to serve in Gaza and the West Bank because it offended their consciences by in their view seeing Israel’s occupation of those lands as oppression of Palestinians, can justify their refusal to carry out orders on the basis of what constitutes a war crime in accord with the Nuremberg principles and Geneva Convention.

    The issue for Israel goes deeper then that.

    It is a neither purely religious nor secular issue.

    There are both religous and secular Jews who are on both sides of the issue as to what Israel should be, a Jewish nation or a nation of her people. In either case both sides speak to what lands should comprise Israel, either the land of Gaza and the West Bank or an Israel contained within the pre- 1967 6 day war lines.

    Arguments flow on either side of the issue in that regard based on both religious and secular views as well as perceptions of what Israel needs for her security and what if any rights to the land of Gaza and the West Bank actually were given or have since accrued to the Arabs and Palestinians. These arguments on both sides of what Israel should be as a nation and what land it is entitled to have for the nation, are passionate and sometimes heated.

    It is fundamental that in any nation, government is the one to set and implement policy to advance a nation’s interests and ensure the nation is protected. That is so whether the government is elected as in a democracy or people have seized power such as in an autocracy, dictatorship, military government or a mullocracy. It is neither for the army nor for groups of people to pick and choose what orders and laws to follow and which to ignore or refuse.

    There does come a time however when a government fails to represent the will of the people. If a critical line is crossed where the government is overly abusive of the nation’s citizens or flouts the will of the people they serve by either mandate given by or taken from the people, the government can find itself facing a revolt and widespread insurrection to get rid of the government.

    We saw this in Iran over 20 years ago when the people revolted against the Shah and the mullocracy under Khomeini was brought in to govern.

    The situation has not become critically unstable in Israel, however that there has been dissention within the ranks of the IDF as noted by Rabbi Burton are telltale signs that Israel has some cracks in her foundation that will need to be addressed and repaired or the situation will worsen and the house of Israel will become hopelessly divided and will in such case fall.

    The kind of house Israel is to become is being determined currently by a government with single digit approval ratings. Like prior administrations the current GOI is into not only the current two state solution peace paradigm, but on other issues germaine to the fabric of the nation are trying to ignore or sweep these deepening divisions within Israeli society under the carpet.

    The recent acts by IDF soliders on both sides of the issue about what kind of nation Israel is to be and what lands shall comprise it are symptoms of a much deeper malaise afflicting Israel and these warning signs that the ideological fractures within Israeli society are worsening, cannot be ignored too much longer, if at all.

  5. I disagree with Bill and Salomon because I fear they miss the point.

    The Nuremberg Principles provided that a soldier must refuse an unlawful order if such order contravened international law i.e. war crimes. In such cases you have a duty to refuse. Obviously a very limited exception to the duty to obey your officer. So the question is are there any other principles to hang your insubordination hat on?

    Rabbi Burton runs with this notion of higher law to articulate that for the religious soldier his religious values trump secular values when they are in conflict. What is a religious soldier to do when his commanders order him to violate his duty to G-d? One might argue that an order to evict a few Jews from Judea creates no conflict with his duty to G-d and perhaps you are right. But to order Jews to forcibly evict all Jews from Judea, certainly does.

    Bill complains that Rabbi Burton doesn’t explain the difference between the two insubordinations (left and right). To my mind it is obvious. To suggest that serving in the occupied territories is tantamount to a war crime, is ridiculous. But to refuse to violate your duty to G-d is tantemount to refusing to commit a war crime, at least for a religious person.

    Nor do I think this debate should be framed in what is moral or not. Whether or not to defend our ownership of Judea and Samaria is not a matter of morality. It is a matter of values and fundamental purpose.

    Bill goes on to state the issue as a choice between serving the government or the people. I think that doesn’t get us anywhere. It is for the government to decide what is in the interests of the people and not the soldiers.

    Now Salomon puts it another way

    I think the distinction between religious and secular is not the right one. It even makes any resolution harder to achieve.

    The real distinction is between a nation-state (where its founding Jewish people are sovereign) and a “state of all its peoples” (multicultural state).

    While I fully support his argument, it doesn’t go to whether and when subordination is required or defensible.

    Furthermore, I wonder how solving the constitutional divide becomes easier if we shift the issue as he suggests.

    In the meantime either way you describe the divide, soldiers are faced and will be faced with the dilemma of whether to follow orders requiring them to force Jews to evacuate Judea and Samaria.

    I attempted to invalidate the government orders on the basis that they violate a sixty year old status quo agreement. Does this hold water? What is the governments limitation in this regard. It seems to me that they are acting in disregard of this understanding. It is also acting in disregard of Israel as a Jewish state in favour of a democratic state or a state of all its citizens.

    It has been doing this for some time now with the aid of our Supreme Court. Yet the people are against it. There is no legal basis for them to decide to favour a state like any other state over a Jewish state.

  6. Bill Narvey is spot on in deconstructing Rabbi Burton’s rationale. The religious/secular cleavage should not be a source of, or a pretext to, conflict. However, if it actually is so in Israel, it’s probably because this cleavage, nurtured for too long, has exacerbated passions, while a broader look at Israel’s raison d’être should have dispelled many of the seemingly irreconcilable views.

    Unfortunately, Hannah Lerner’s paper – Religion and Constitution Drafting: the Need for an Incrementalist Approach – is also focused on religion.

    I only went through a quick, first reading of her well-researched report. I have the following preliminary comments:

    1. Some of the authors she quotes (Jurgen Habermas, Jeremy Weber) were explicitly writing for a largely Christian, multicultural audience. In their mainly socialist/Marxist views, the nation-state was an outdated notion. The Israeli context is entirely different because a) whereas there is no such thing as a “Christian people” there has always been a “Jewish people” and b) the Jewish people reconstituted itself into a nation in 1922 and has not (or shouldn’t have) a multicultural vocation.

    2. Since Hannah Lerner focuses on the religious/secular dichotomy, it is not surprising that the words “people” and “nation-state” are never mentioned in her paper. While these notions are far more likely to garner a broad support among Israelis, trying to solve the religious differences can only exacerbate the situation.

    3. The best example of how divisive (and probably unnecessary) the religious cleavage is, appears in ultra-Orthodox Meir Levonstein’s statement circa 1950:

    There is no place in Israel for any constitution created by men. If it contradicts the Torah – it is inadmissible, and if it is concurrent with the Torah – it is redundant.

    4. There is nothing wrong for Israel to pass laws that concur with the Torah. These ancient writings established the universal foundations of ethics, freedom, justice, human rights and the rule of law. The vast majority of Israelis would agree, even if they do not concur on the authorship of those seminal texts. Let us leave the Divine to the personal level and not plunge Israel into a Lovenstein type theocracy.

    5. I would disagree with Hannah Lerner in her characterization of “a Jewish and democratic state” as an “arguably contradictory moniker.” As I wrote previously, there is nothing inherently contradictory in a nation-state being democratic. Perhaps, in Lerner’s mind, she could not dissociate “Jewish” (the people) from “Judaism” (the religion). All civilizations originated in religious beliefs. When they matured, their original beliefs, traditions, institutions, etc. became embedded in their cultural character and often transcended by their broader aspirations. The Jewish civilization is no exception.

    6. Hannah Lerner mentions the problems encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan when they attempted to write their own constitutions. But the main problem of these countries is their multiplicity of ethnic groups. The Jewish State of Israel does not have Balushis, Hazara, Kurds and Pashtun to deal with. It only has ONE sovereign people and the constitutional task should be much easier. Provided, of course, that the notion of a Jewish PEOPLE, entitled to form a NATION-STATE is not obscured by different hues of religious fervor. Whereas in Iraq and Afghanistan Islam may be the only unifying glue at the cost of an authoritarian theocracy, Israel’s unity should be sufficiently held by its founding people.

    7. Finally, Lerner concludes by advocating “not to force the issue” but to “[wait] patiently for the desired conditions to evolve.” I would certainly agree on not forcing the religious issue. But at a time when the very existence of the Jewish State of Israel is threatened by what Newt Gingrich called “the surrender process, not the peace process”, we should definitely force the issue of the Jewish nation-state in the land that is legally theirs.

  7. As a Christian, this situation reminds me of the situation German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced during the rise of Hitler–to submit to the Nazi nation-state or to resist. Bonhoeffer, after much thought, chose to obey both his conscience and a higher loyalty to His God. If you get the DVD “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resister,” you won’t regret it. I am rather surprised that only 30% support the IDF soldiers’ refusals, it seems like a no brainer to me, it’s not like they were refusing to fight the enemy. Why Israel puts up with the divisive, enemy-appeasing, nation-endangering Olmert I don’t understand.

  8. Salomon,

    Once again I find I have to agree with you. Do we ever disagree? It would be a nice change and good ground for a debate if we could only find something to disagree on.

    As to Rabbi Burton’s article, he makes a good case in good, but not perfect fashion. That said, his is still only a case to be made.

    To reference a few of Rabbi Burton’s comments that demand clarification:

    there is a qualitative difference between the objection to insubordination when it comes to serving in the West Bank and Gaza, and insubordination when it comes to expelling Jewish people from their homes. The conventional left-wing political wisdom here supports the former and excoriates the latter

    The good Rabbi fails to explain what that qualitative difference is.

    it is not the order of a rabbi that gave these soldiers the courage to refuse orders. It is the most primal intuitive understanding that expelling a Jew from his or her home by force is immoral.

    Immoral in relation to what? If Israel’s end game objective is to bring peace and save Israeli lives, is that not a moral purpose to the policies of the GOI? If so, then the issue is not morality, but an issue of which path will bring about the ultimate moral result, which I presume be it in Judaism or universalism, is to ensure the sanctity, quality and security of life.

    Judaism, and loyalty to G-d and the Jewish People, are these soldiers’ highest values….they were being told to adhere to secular values that conflict with the most basic Jewish values.

    There does not have to be a antithetical dichotomy between loyalty to G_D and the Jewish People and loyalty to the values and morality that derive from a religion based on that belief in the existence of G_D. For example, atheists who deny the existence of G_D can believe as strongly in the values, morality and best aspirations in life as a devout believer in G_D. Both agree with the essential values of their religious faith, except one believes their religion and all the values therein came from G_D and one believes it came from people inspired by belief in the existence of G_D.

    They were forced to choose between the deformed new world order of the secular Israeli state–a value that supersedes all else for people like Gal-On and Rubenstein–and the Yiddishkeit that comes down to them from Abraham, who purchased Hebron 4000 years ago.

    No, they were not forced to make such kind of choice.

    Israel’s IDF is no different then other armies in terms of being required to accept the chain of command and follow orders regardless of matters of personal conscience, except when those orders are illegal and immoral in accord with the laws and moral dictates of the nation they serve.

    The choice IDF soldiers like any other nation’s soldiers is one of personal conscience measured against the conscience of the nation as that solider perceives it to be.

    It is a very heavy burden placed on soldiers at the bottom of the chain of command to second guess the orders from their superiors, In doing so, they bear the brunt of their decision if the order refused, turns out to be both moral and legal and only contrary to the dictates of the soldier’s conscience.

    Secondly, an army cannot best serve and protect the nation in cohesive fashion when there is no clear standard as to what is and is not in keeping with the values and morality and justice of the nation. The fact that so many IDF soldiers refused service is only evidence of that failure from the top to provide leadership.

    Thirdly, there is a further possibility that gives rise to dissention within the ranks of the IDF and could account for so many soldiers refusing orders. That could have nothing to do with G_D’s laws and Judaic values vs. secular values.

    Rather, it could well have to do with a number of IDF soldiers refusing orders, not because such orders contravene their religious beliefs but rather because those orders are in furtherance of an Israeli government policy that commits Israel to paying for peace with the life of Israel.

    While the IDF is subject to the authority of the Government of Israel, do they not have a higher duty to the people of Israel?

    If so, where to carry out the government orders is contrary to the interests of the people of Israel, do these soldiers not have the higher duty to refuse those orders? Does that higher duty call on them to defy the government that issued orders on the basis that those orders are contrary to Israel’s highest values, being the protection and preservation of the sanctity of Israeli lives and the nation of Israel itself?

    It seems from this writer’s standpoint that Rabbi Burton has only covered the bases of those refusenik IDF soldiers he supports, but has really not covered all the bases for the issues run broader and deeper then he has made out.

  9. As to the forceful, and violent, evacuation of Jews from Hebron, let us remember William Jefferson:

    “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty!”
    I hope the Israeli people will now be moving toward the latter.

  10. I think the distinction between religious and secular is not the right one. It even makes any resolution harder to achieve.

    The real distinction is between a nation-state (where its founding Jewish people are sovereign) and a “state of all its peoples” (multicultural state).

    The former approach inevitably brings up notions of “theocracy”. The latter is fully compatible with a democratic state, as long as the founding people maintain a substantial majority. Japan, Iceland, Poland and many other states fit the latter category. And no one would argue they are not “democratic”.

  11. We have discussed recently the seeming inability of the right to organize and be a force against the present govt. and its abhorrent policies. What seems to be happening in a disorganized way is that the essential tool that the left needs to implement their plans becomes a big question mark. The Israeli police numbers something to the order of 18,000. They cannot be used effectivly in all or any of their primary missions if they are to spearhead alone disengagements in J & S. Even a disorganized right can generate at least as many and so prevent with their bodies future major retreats from settlements ad territory. The youth of the right both secular and religious understand the equation and will seek at every opportunity to wear the Authorities and their enforcement arms down!

    On Tues. on weekly local Political talk show Aryeh Eldad in response to Offer Pines of the Left Labor Party Stated an apparent truth when it closed the segment saying that the IDF was worried in the HIGH DROPOUT RATE APPROACHING 50% OF ALL ELIGIBLE CIVILIANS. HE THEN WARNED THAT ANY ATTEMPT BY ANY GOVT.WOULD HAVE TO CARRY OUT ALL MISSIONS WITH HALF OF THE PRESENT IDF FORCES TODAY: MEANING REFUSAL TO OBEY SUCH ORDERS

  12. JPOST Blog Central discusses this question.

    How can the IDF improve its standing among Right wing youth who have become increasingly less motivated to join the army, and at the same time harshly deal with any insubordination among its ranks, as was demonstrated in the Hebron marketplace evacuation?

    I don’t like the question because it doesn’t frame the issue properly.

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