Israelis back 'right' to disobey the IDF

By Nathan Jeffay, December 30, 2009
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Some 29 per cent of Israeli Jews believe that right-wing soldiers have a “right” to refuse orders if asked to evacuate a settlement, according to a new Tel Aviv University poll.

Last month, the government decided to expel the Har Bracha yeshivah from the army’s hesder programme, which combines army service and Torah study, after its head encouraged students to disobey orders in such cases.

He was responding to two incidents in which soldiers waved banners opposing their battalions being used to evacuate settlement outposts. In the wake of the Har Bracha decision, another group of soldiers raised a banner declaring solidarity with the yeshivah.

“I am surprised by the figures – they are high and it could lead to the downfall of Israel if people refuse to follow orders,” said public opinion expert Mitchell Barak, CEO of Keevoon Research, Strategy & Communications.

The poll also reported that 18 per cent of Israeli Jews support the “right” of left-wing soldiers to refuse to serve in the West Bank.

Ephraim Yaar, co-director of the poll, said that it points to “the paradox of Zionism”. The movement strove for an independent Jewish army, he said, but Israelis feel less bound to accept its authority than many of their forebears who served in non-Jewish armies.

Yagil Levy, a political sociologist with Israel’s Open University, said that the poll shows how much Israel has changed since earlier this decade when “disobedience was a taboo issue on the Israeli political spectrum”.

That began to change in 2002, when the growing refusal of left-wing soldiers to serve in the territories gained headlines. Then, at the time of the Gaza evacuation of 2005, it came on to the right-wing agenda, when national religious soldiers threatened to refuse to evacuate settlers from Gush Katif.

“Paradoxically, the left-wing paved the way for the right-wing in patterns of disobedience,” said Dr Levy.

The connection between the two types of insubordination was apparent in the poll, with the highest support for soldiers refusing to serve in the West Bank coming from Orthodox respondents. This, said Dr Yaar, is an indication that they are trying to be consistent, backing the principle of insubordination on grounds of conscience for all.

Yishai Fleisher, head of English programming at the settler media network Arutz 7, provides a different explanation for the increased acceptance of right-wing insubordination. He claims that the government, not the settler movement, is responsible.

In his analysis, the policies of Israel used to be in line with those of religious-Zionists “but now the state has changed and the government has abrogated what was understood to be classical Zionism”.

    Last updated: 1:50pm, December 31 2009