Editor's Note: The JPC has stayed out of the judicial reform debate in Israel and the demonstrations that accompanied it. We also criticized the Biden administration for its blatant interference. The elected Parliament of a democratic, allied country such as Israel is well able to make its own decisions and face the consequences. However, the issue that was reported as the refusal of IDF reservists to report for duty was extremely troublesome for us as strong supporters of US-Israel security cooperation. We were very pleased to learn from our guest Israeli diplomatic writer David M. Weinberg that we were not getting the whole story - nor is the Israeli public. We feel better now about the broad majority of soldiers, the strengths of the Israeli public, and the role of its most central institution, the IDF. We bring this article to you as a public service. And note: David Weinberg will join the JPC for a webinar on Thursday 3 August at 1:00 PM EDT.
Anybody getting their news from mainstream Israeli media over the past month surely knows that top military personnel “by the thousands” are refusing to show up for reserve duty in the IDF because of the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform juggernaut.
This week, for example, the only thing the mainstream media could talk about was the announcement by 160 reservists in the Israel Air Force that they were suspending their voluntary reserve duty, effective immediately, because the government was “turning the country into a dictatorship.”
This list of officers backing this sarvanut, “refusal-to-serve” announcement reportedly included two brigadier generals, five colonels, and other lieutenant colonels, majors, and captains who serve in IAF headquarters as drone pilots, intelligence officers, and other important functionaries.
Channel 12 television news, the cheerleader-in-chief for the political opposition, every night manages to discover and celebrate another such refusal-to-serve.
At first, there were supposedly some 400 reservists of the elite Sayeret Matkal, the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit; then some 420 members of the Shayetet 13 naval commando unit; then some 350 military doctors in reserves; then some 600 reservists of the paratroopers’ brigade’s reconnaissance unit; then 120 reservists of an artillery unit; then 110 reservists of the Shimshon and Duvdevan infantry battalions; then 80 reservists of the elite Egoz unit; then the Golani brigade’s reconnaissance unit; then the alpine reserve unit, etc.
There are two problems with this ‘festival’
There are two problems with this much-ballyhooed refusal-to-serve festival. First, I suspect that the numbers are fuzzy and inflated. In fact, a deeper dive indicates that very many of the purportedly AWOL soldiers are long retired from reserve service of any type.
This reality became clear in a rare television news segment on Wednesday night where Col. Yair Pelei, the Golani Brigade commander, stripped the refuse-to-serve festival of its factual moorings. Hundreds of Golani reservists are currently participating in a massive training exercise on the Golan Heights. Not a single reserve soldier refused to show-up for duty, Col. Pelei said. Not a single one.
But surely the judicial reform storm is a topic of heated debate in the regular and reserve Golani units, insisted the reporter. “No, not at all. It is not something we discuss,” said the Golani commander. “Every soldier puts aside his personal views when it is time to train, with the understanding that Israel’s security is paramount and that they have a job to do that prevails over politics.”
Second, is the fact that for every refuse-to-serve declaration highlighted by the mainstream and almost uniformly anti-government media, there are an equal if not much greater number of petitions and declarations out there against sarvanut, against the wave of avowals to refuse-to-serve.
By my count – and I did my homework in tabulating this – well over 100,000 Israeli active duty and reserve military personnel are on record as rejecting the calls l’sarev, to refuse to serve.
Alas, you would not know this from the mainstream Israeli, or the global, media. They have almost totally ignored petitions and declarations from the center and conservative sides of the political map.
They pointedly have failed to report on what I think is the majority consensus in Israeli society – that refusal to serve in the IDF, under the current circumstance, and in almost all likely circumstances – is criminal at best, treasonous at worst. And in all cases, it is enormously damaging and dangerous.
150 senior IDF military intelligence reserve officers’ public call against sarvanut
If you are not a regular reader of the right-wing and religious press or a follower of nationalist social media feeds, you wouldn’t know, for example, that this week 150 very senior IDF military intelligence reserve officers published a public call against sarvanut; a call to leave the IDF out of and beyond political debate, and a call on all military intelligence personnel to answer with enthusiasm and vigor, as always, all draft calls for reserve duty.
The letter was helmed by Major Gen. Yaakov Amidror (who was chief of the research division in IDF military intelligence and Israel’s national security adviser), and Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser (also a former chief of the research division in military intelligence, and director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, and today a senior fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy).
Three military intelligence colonels and five military intelligence lieutenant colonels, men and women, added themselves to this letter. And it is still gathering signatures and will yet reach into the many hundreds, I am sure.
But I am quite certain that most Israelis have not heard about this. None of the mainstream media outlets, including this newspaper, designed to give this anti-sarvanut declaration any attention.
Another public declaration against sarvanut was signed by 274 front-line reservists of the elite Maglan unit. This was utterly ignored by most Israeli media too. Top commanders and reservists, 300 of them, Sayeret Matkal commandos all, got the same silent media treatment, meaning no coverage at all, when they sought to counter the earlier Matkal group that threatened refusal.
The same goes for 350 soldiers of the Duvdevan unit. The same goes for fighters from Shaldag (150 reservists have signed), Shayetet 13 (300 reservists), and Egoz (200 reservists). The same goes for front-line combat soldiers from the Alexandroni and Carmeli brigades (120 and growing) and other commandos in the IDF Depth Corps. The same goes for soldiers in the Home Front Command.
“Our love for the homeland and the people of Israel is 10 times greater than any political consideration of one kind or another,” the Maglan reservists wrote in a petition addressed to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi. “We call our fellow men to arms, the beloved soldiers and commanders with whom we have been fighting for years, shoulder to shoulder, from all the army units and the security system: This is indeed a difficult time, but together we will win as always.”
Col. Amos Hacohen, one of the Maglan organizers, told Arutz 7 (a right-wing media outlet) on Tuesday: “The great danger in bringing the army into the dispute and entangling the military framework is twofold. One is that the enemies around us will interpret this dispute as a weakness and take advantage of it. The second danger is the precedent of bringing the dispute into the army. Today it serves one side and tomorrow it will serve another side [of the political spectrum].”
But again, in the mainstream media these affirmations of commitment to IDF service, despite whatever judicial reforms might be legislated in Knesset, simply do not exist. The affirmations have evaporated into the thin air of supremely biased conventional Israeli media. They are lost in the anti-Netanyahu netherworld.
Representing the 20,000 registered members of Israel’s biggest security affairs grassroots movement, the Israel Defense and Security Forum (known in Hebrew as Habithonistim), 50 IDF reserve major generals and brigadier generals have written to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF chief Halevi to indicate their outright rejection of sarvanut.
“The use of the IDF and other Israeli security organizations as levers of political pressure on any Israeli government is tantamount to a silent military coup effort. This is the true threat to Israeli democracy,” they wrote. “This crosses all red lines of acceptable behavior. This saps the resilience of Israel and of the integrity of the IDF as a true people’s army.”
Among the 50 generals signing the letter were heroes of Israel and top commanders like Amir Avivi, Avigdor Kahalani, Eliezer Marom, Erez Wiener, Gershon Hacohen, Harel Knafo, Kamil Abu Rokon, Meir Clifi, Oded Tirah, Pini Badash, Yiftach Ron Tal, Yitzhak Jerry Gershon, and Yossi Bachar.
But most Israelis will never know of this letter because it got zero coverage in the ostensibly fair-minded and professedly middle-of-the-road Israeli media.
Back in March when the refusal-to-serve festival was in its infancy, the same grassroots security movement, Habithonistim, organized a rally in Tel Aviv in support of the IDF (meaning, a demonstration to protect the IDF from those who would politicize it). The organization also published full-page ads in Israeli newspapers. At that time, key former military men who today are aligned with opposition parties emphatically signed the ads – generals like Danny Rothschild, Gabi Ashkenazi, Gadi Shamni, Matan Vilnai, and Shaul Mofaz.
But you hardly noticed those ads and do not remember that anti-sarvanut rally, right? That is because the media would not discuss or echo the ads and because the rally received little media coverage – no surprise.
More than 80,000 rank-and-file IDF reservists have signed an online petition launched by two right-wing journalists, Yinon Magal and Meir Layosh, which rejects the calls to refuse to serve (see drove.com/.2Hna). Each of these reservists have lent their full name, in public, to the petition. They feel no need to hide anonymously behind left-wing reporters. And they have no other way of making their voice heard.
But most readers of this column will be hearing about that petition for the first time, correct? The petition has not and will not receive any attention from Israel’s oh-so-glorious and impartial media, which is working overtime to “protect” Israeli democracy, you see.
The writer is founding senior fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security & Zionist Strategy. The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political, and Jewish world columns are at davidmweinberg.com.