Conscientious objectors from the IDF’s 8200 signals intelligence unit are motivated more by extreme left-wing politics than genuine concern for human rights, Likud politicians said on Sunday, two days after 43 reservists published a letter refusing orders in protest of the army’s conduct in the West Bank and Gaza.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called the letter published on Friday political, pointing to the timing of its release, after Operation Protective Edge, as problematic and saying the protesters are providing “an excellent service for those who hate Israel.”
“It pains me that there are people like this among us,” he said.
“This is a clearly political declaration, which is meant as an attack against the IDF, that is published when the whole world is criticizing us harshly and baselessly, in a way that shows no understanding of the reality of our lives here,” the Knesset speaker wrote on Facebook.
Edelstein praised Unit 8200’s work as life-saving and essential to the military’s success.
“If there is reasonable and justified criticism, it should be examined, but not through mudslinging against the IDF and the State of Israel,” he wrote.
“Tell me who your lawyer is, and I will tell you who you are,” Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat wrote on Facebook, pointing out that the protesters are represented by attorney Michael Sfard, who also represents left-wing organizations such as B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, Peace Now and Courage to Refuse.
“Sfard represents Palestinian prisoners... He stood behind petitions against the separation barrier, represented residents of [Palestinian village near the barrier] Bil’in and petitioned for the evacuation of Migron, the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El [both in the Binyamin region of the West Bank] and more,” Livnat wrote.
The minister called the reservists’ letter “nothing more than a cheap gimmick, a media spin, and cynical and manipulative use of military service for purely political ends.”
According to Livnat, the way the letter was sent to the media, and the interviews the reservists gave, in addition to the fact that they are represented by Sfard, shows that this is a well-timed, well-funded political campaign.
“Don’t be too surprised if we find them, together with their lawyers, signing a petition [to the High Court of Justice] against soldiers or settlers who refuse to evacuate an outpost,” she added.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that “refusing orders should be condemned and using it politically by voicing false accusations is not valid.”
“The IDF, including all of its units, is the most moral army in the world,” Netanyahu stated at the International Cybersecurity Conference in Tel Aviv University. “It completes the missions we give it in the best way possible to ensure the security of Israeli citizens.”
The prime minister added that, from years of experience working with Unit 8200, he knows that the “baseless slander” against it will not harm its essential efforts to defend Israel, and called on the unit to continue that work.
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud), who is also chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee on Intelligence and a Unit 8200 alumnus, said he rejects all of the letter’s claims.
“Military service is a privilege, and whoever refuses to help protect our country crosses the line from those who support Israeli democracy and the liberty it represents to those who support Palestinian terrorism, which attacks innocent Israeli citizens,” he said.
The IDF is the most moral army in the world, and he is certain that it does not waste its resources on harming or spying on innocent civilians, Levin said.
The coalition chairman called for the army to dismiss the protesters from reserve duty immediately.
“These people don’t deserve the privilege of continuing to serve in Unit 8200,” he said.
Levin and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) both served in the intelligence unit in their mandatory service and reserve duty. On Saturday night, Herzog said he was “revolted” by those who wrote the letter, that Unit 8200 saves thousands of lives and that the protesters are only hurting Israeli civilians.
On Sunday, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) wrote on Facebook that she “opposes refusing orders whether the person is on the Right or Left. Period.
There are other, appropriate ways to voice opinions and even criticism.”
Livni added that, as a member of the security cabinet, she appreciates the “life-saving information” gathered by Unit 8200 and encouraged it to continue.
Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked called the Unit 8200 rebels “a bunch of hypocrites... who are slandering Israel in the world and acting as tools in the hands of those who seek to delegitimize Israel.”
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) wrote an angry status on Facebook saying the objectors’ complaints “have no connection to reality.”
“If you did things that were so immoral, why didn’t you refuse orders in real-time? You would have refused, been put on trial, thrown out of the unit, paid a price, and lived peacefully with your conscience. That is what real conscientious objectors do,” she wrote.
The Labor MK asked why the rebels said they only have a problem spying on Palestinians, and not on other fronts: “Why? Where did the terrorist attacks that killed Israelis in the last 20 years come from? From Iraq?” Yacimovich explained that she is more angry than politicians on the Right, because “with this selfish and self-righteous act, you didn’t harm the country, you harmed the Zionist Left.
You didn’t influence the Israeli public discourse by a millimeter. The opposite is true. With your collection of shallow and childish clichés, taking advantage of the IDF, spitting into the well from which you drank and will continue to drink your whole lives, with endless arrogance, you moved us a step back.”
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said that the Unit 8200 protesters acted bravely, making a values-based decision even though they know they are breaking the law, and are willing to pay the price.
“A government that refuses peace condemns its soldiers to face difficult moral dilemmas and carry on their consciences harm to innocent people, especially in a war between a military power and a civilian population,” she said.
“Is it not time for the government to face the content [of the letter] and not be shocked and insulted?” Gal-On asked. “The soldiers are saying ‘We are serving, we want to serve, but we don’t want to violate human rights because of political decisions not to end the occupation. Take politics out of our service.’”