Between Conscientious Objection and Anarchy
By Moshe Feiglin
Translated from the Hebrew article on the NRG website
When the recent conscientious objection letter of high school students was publicized, I wrote a press release in support of their right to refuse – even though the conscientious objectors were from the left side of the political spectrum. When the Shimshon soldiers from the right side of the political spectrum announced that they would not carry out orders to expel Jews from their homes, I once again wrote a press release in their support. Obviously, my heart is with the Shimshon soldiers and not with the conscientious objectors of the left. But in principle, I support every act of conscientious objection.
The only problem is that the Shimshon soldiers – who, in my opinion, performed an indispensable service for the IDF and the State of Israel – did not receive serious punishment. Twenty days in prison is not intimidating. They should have received at least 200 days.
Confused? Let’s make some order of this issue.
The main claim against the conscientious objectors is that their refusal will lead to anarchy, threatening the very foundations of the State. Today I refuse to obey my orders, tomorrow you refuse to obey your orders and chaos ensues.
That sounds logical enough. So logical, that tens of thousands of good people; soldiers and police, religious and secular – bought into this dubious line of thinking and transformed themselves into small-time criminals in the service of big-time criminals. Because no matter how you try to rationalize it, the act of robbing an honest man of his home, driving him and his family off their land, destroying their home and property and tossing them into a cardboard “villa” far from the public eye – is a crime.
This situation becomes more complex if the claim is that the home-owner is not an honest man, that he is a thief who settled on land that does not belong to him or that there is no choice and that for the sake of Israel’s citizens the Jews of Gush Katif must be expelled and their property destroyed. But that was not the situation in Gush Katif.
The public was well aware that no peace or security would result from the “unilateral disengagement.” To the best of my memory, proponents of the Disengagement did not claim to have been privy to any divine revelations that commanded them to drive their brothers from their homes, which could have given them some (strange) moral justification. The only ethical ammunition that was packed onto the backs of the soldiers on their way to perpetration of the crime was that they must carry out their orders because a soldier must carry out his orders. That is exactly how the soldiers and officers explained themselves, as well. I am carrying out this horrible order because if I do not do so, the ensuing anarchy will endanger the State of Israel. In other words, the only good thing that came out of the fulfillment of these orders is the fact that they were, indeed, fulfilled.
The brainwashing of the IDF soldiers, better known by its Orwellian name, “mental preparation,” supported by the attack dogs of the media and the rule of law gang was powerful. So powerful, that conscientious objection was considered a crime worse than the robbery and cynical exploitation of 8,000 Jews.
And so, the State of Israel was “saved” from the dangers of conscientious objection and the orders were carried out in full – with sensitivity and determination. Gush Katif was destroyed. Ashdod, Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva became the new targets for rockets from Gaza. The IDF – which had lost the moral justification to control Gaza – embarked on the Cast Lead Operation and lost, of course. The Goldstone Report harasses the officers and politicians who expelled their brothers, implying that they are robbers and foreign conquerors in their own land. Important ministers can no longer travel the world freely. An unprecedented campaign of delegitimization against Israel and its very right to exist on the globe as a Jewish state is rapidly gaining momentum. In other words, the sand in the State of Israel’s hourglass is running out.
That is anarchy. In an unparalleled display of self-sacrifice, tens of thousands of Israeli citizens protested, were jailed, beaten and downtrodden when they attempted to prevent the impending anarchy. But they failed. Why? Because the State of Israel turned the only tool that allows a responsible citizen to oppose the tyranny of government – any government – into a toy reserved only for the Left, completely out of bounds for the Right.
So the soldiers did not refuse to obey their orders and the citizens who blocked roads were beaten and sentenced to jail terms much harsher than those meted out to security prisoners. Television pundit Yaron London broadcast a call for Israelis to beat the protestors with iron chains and nobody accused him of incitement to violence. Nice rabbis condemned the protests on Israel’s roads and governmental anarchy flourished.
What is the real danger? The normative person has no desire for anarchy. He strives for personal and financial security and a calm environment in which to raise his children. The predisposition of the normative citizen is to obey the government, and that is good. There is no real danger that suddenly everybody will start doing whatever they want. If tens of thousands of normal, working, family people are suddenly willing to pay a steep price in jail terms and loss of income, that means that the government – even if it was elected in legitimate elections – has crossed a line that it should not have crossed. Conscientious objection does not create anarchy. On the contrary, it guards the state from moral corruption and totalitarianism.
The real danger of anarchy comes not from the citizens, but from the state’s leaders. The Oslo coercion and the subsequent “Disengagement” are two classic examples of leadership that was elected due to its unequivocal promises to carry out a particular platform (Rabin’s “no Palestinian state” and Sharon’s “The fate of Netzarim is the fate of Tel Aviv”) but that implemented the complete opposite once it was elected.
That is a perfect example of tyranny. I have power – and it makes no difference if it was achieved through deception of voters or by military coup – and now I command you to carry out an unethical and illogical order simply because I am strong and the forces of government are on my side. That is the true anarchy. We are wallowing in it today and it endangers Israel’s very foundations.
How can this anarchy be prevented? What can defend citizens against the tyranny of the regime? How can we formulate logical and ethical policies that express the will of the majority? Simply put, how can we guard democracy? The answer is conscientious objection for soldiers and civil disobedience for citizens. When a large segment of society is willing to break the law despite its natural inclination, when a citizen or soldier is willing to bear harsh punishment in order to remain faithful to his/her conscience (that is why it is important for the punishment to be intimidating) he is demarcating the red line over which the government cannot slide – even if legally or technically it can do so.
Israel’s Left has always known this. The Left has traditionally propagated conscientious objection like mushrooms after the rain. Just a few years ago, billboards throughout Israel encouraged leftist objection and the Attorney General declared that he “understood” the objectors. They never received significant punishment, but their objection lamentably delineated the red line on the left over which the government cannot tread. As a result of the relatively widespread conscientious objection of the Left, it is impossible today to suggest expulsion of the Arabs or tactics to deal with a terror-supporting civilian population in our midst.
The Right, on the other hand, never took up the challenge and never demarcated the nationalist red line. That is what empowered the Oslo and Disengagement anarchy that has engendered Israel’s slow disintegration and loss of legitimacy in the world.
I salute the Shimshon soldiers who are now serving their prison terms. It may be that in their merit, the IDF will return to its ethical foundation and the State of Israel will be saved.