aining session in Ben Shemen forest, near the city of Modi’in, May 23, 2016. (photo by REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
When Israel’s recently designated Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman took a stand in support of the soldier who shot to death an incapacitated attacker in Hebron on March 24, he knew exactly what he was doing. True, he is a quintessential right-winger, but it was not ideology that motivated Liberman in this case. It was the understanding that he was strumming the strings of widespread popular sentiment.
This affair, which pitted supporters of the uniformed shooter against the military establishment that denounced him and dragged the Israel Defense Forces into a growingly radicalized social discourse, provided an opportunity to examine current public attitudes toward IDF soldiers: a warm, supportive, parental approach that puts the soldiers first at the expense of civilians and, as in the latest case, at the expense of democratic values, the IDF code of ethics, open-fire regulations and the authority of the military chain of command. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot had condemned the act.
The changing Israeli attitudes toward soldiers, from viewing them as heroes whose job is to physically defend the civilians and borders of the state, to treating them like “everybody’s children” in need of protection themselves, has been evolving over several decades. It started with public attitudes toward soldiers killed in battle.
“The First Lebanon War was a watershed moment as regards attitudes toward fallen soldiers, when protests were held over the deaths of soldiers there,” Yagil Levy, a sociologist studying military-societal relationships at the Open University, tells Al-Monitor.
On the other hand, Knesset member and reserve Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) argues that the 1982 protests were mostly directed against government policy, and he therefore points to the formation of the “Four Mothers” movement as a historic turning point after which public perceptions turned to seeing IDF fighters as children who must be protected. The movement was founded in 1997 by four mothers of fighters after 73 soldiers were killed in an airborne collision between two helicopters carrying troops to Lebanon. It called for an IDF withdrawal from Lebanon, citing concern for the fighters’ lives. Their effort is considered one of the central elements in the decision by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak to withdraw Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in May 2000.
Six years later, in the Second Lebanon War, changing attitudes toward soldiers had already infiltrated the IDF’s doctrine. The report of the Winograd Commission appointed to examine the 2006 military campaign clearly determined, “The IDF conducted itself during the war like one whose fears of casualties among its soldiers played a central role in the planning process and operational considerations.”
Stern says, “While civilians were being killed day after day in the heartland, in the conduct of the IDF there was a clash between single-minded adherence to the mission, meaning defending civilian lives and thwarting threats against them, and [protecting] human life — meaning the lives of the soldiers.” Levy explains that this war ingrained in the IDF a legacy that holds fallen soldiers dearer than civilians, from which the government derived legitimacy for its very aggressive firepower policy implemented in clashes in Gaza, saying, “There’s no ethical dilemma anymore about who to endanger first — Israeli soldiers or enemy civilians.”
But it appears that not only the lives of enemy civilians are ranked lower than those of soldiers, but also those of the Israeli civilians the soldiers were sent to defend. Thus, for example, thwarting the threat of Hamas’ tunnels, which the public views as a threat to civilians in the Israeli communities along the Gaza border fence, was not one of the goals set out for the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza until there was absolutely no other choice, following an attack by Hamas activists on Israeli territory. The deaths of soldiers in that war also affected the public far more intensely than the deaths of civilians. The funerals of soldiers, those who had no family in Israel and those whose families asked for public support, broughttens of thousands of strangers to cemeteries. On the other hand, Daniel Tragerman, 4, killed by a mortar shell that hit his home in the Gaza border kibbutz of Nahal Oz, was just one more casualty in the annals of war. The masses did not turn out to escort him to his final resting place.
Levy talks about a social trend he dubs “childrenification,” saying, “The dependence of the young generation on their parents has increased significantly, as has their involvement in their lives. They live at home longer, the parents pay their way and, of course, interfere a lot in their military service.”
Udi Lebel, a professor at Ariel University who also studies the symbiosis between Israeli society and the IDF, adds, “Parents are required to buy military gear for their kids and they spend tens of thousands of shekels on top-quality military equipment that the army does not provide, and even on essential operational equipment.” Given the declining motivation for combat duty in recent decades, soldiers are becoming a far dearer resource, and the army needs positive parental influence on the youths. But parental involvement does not stop where the IDF finds it convenient, and parents expect the military to protect the lives of their sons and daughters and back them up at all cost. That was exactly the case in the Hebron shooting.
Lebel points to another aspect, saying there’s a process underway of turning the soldier into a victim of forces far greater than he is. “The left claims the soldiers are victims of the occupation policy, and the right claims that they are the victims of [rigid] open-fire regulations and an overly apologetic attitude toward the enemy.” And if the soldier is a victim, he must be protected against the army that turns him into one.
Amos Harel, Haaretz’ veteran military commentator, says the IDF is well aware of these trends and even troubled by them, but is often forced to go along. “The IDF spokesman generates items that stir up national feelings: interviews with women casualty assistance officers, emotional write-ups. Maybe there’s no way around it. If Gilad Shalit, a fighter, emerges from one of the best armored tanks in the world and turns himself in to Hamas without a fight, and his freedom is obtained through the release of hundreds of murderers, and the only thing the public has to say is that ‘he is everyone’s child,’ then the only thing the soldier needs is a hug from his parents. This has a marked effect on the IDF. Look, even then-Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz saluted him. What’s there to be proud of? But in the public’s view, he is our child.”
So is Elor Azaria, the soldier from Hebron denounced by the defense minister and chief of staff and put on trial but who nonetheless enjoys the support of wide swathes of the Israeli public. Not only because he shot a Palestinian terrorist, in keeping with the calls to do so by many public figures, but largely because he is a soldier sent out on a mission. The Israeli public, made up mostly of former soldiers, expects backing for its children and is willing to bear its teeth at anyone who threatens to hurt them, even if they have violated the law and even if it means clashing with the popular IDF.
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.