Rallying soldiers to disobey orders teaches children that the law is meaningless, hesder yeshiva Rabbi Yuval Cherlow warned on Tuesday night.
“We are bringing up our children to be anarchists, in the worst sense of the word, to break the law and to live in opposition to the state,” said Cherlow, head of the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva and a veteran supporter of the settlement movement.
He spoke in Efrat at a panel debate on the growing call by right-wing activists for soldiers to refuse orders to destroy Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria.
In opposition to Cherlow, Efrat resident David Matar said he supported such a call.
Insubordination on the part of the right wing is not a refusal to follow orders, but a statement of loyalty to the Land of Israel, said Matar.
Likud activist Moshe Feiglin, who was also on the panel, said the left wing had successfully used the tactic of insubordination to set the boundaries of what was permissible when it came to solutions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
No one speaks of transferring Arabs out of Israel, because the Left would not tolerate it, and left-wing soldiers would refuse to follow such orders, he said. There had been threats, he added, that such a plan would lead to civil war.
“We do not expel Arabs, because the Left, with its weapon of conscience, made this so,” said Feiglin.
He noted that the threat of left-wing insubordination had not torn apart the army or the nation; “it just means we know what the boundaries” are regarding solutions to the conflict.
But when those on the “orange side of the map” have tried to use insubordination in the same way, they have been bitterly attacked, including by those on the Right, said Feiglin.
“The right-wing public has not listened to its conscience. As a result, there are no red lines on the Right, only on the Left,” said Feiglin.
The failure to use insubordination successfully as a tactic led to the withdrawal from Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, the Goldstone Report and the threat of international arrest warrants against senior politicians and IDF commanders, said Feiglin.
However, Rabbi Yoel Kretzmer-Raziel of the Religious Kibbutz Movement said that while he supported the right of any soldier not to follow orders that went against his conscience, he was concerned by stances people took on both sides of the argument.
Kretzmer-Raziel, who is not a supporter of the settler movement, said that critics of insubordination had elevated the IDF to a “sacred body,” which is a dangerous trend because it places it above criticism.
“The moment we speak of the sanctity of the army, we also speak of an inability to critique or investigate it. This is what led us to the Goldstone Report,” said Kretzmer-Raziel.
But, he warned, it was important that those who refused orders understood and accepted that they might have to pay for it by serving time in jail.
There is an accepted principle in the army that soldiers can refuse an illegal order, he said, but an order that might appear to a soldier to be illegal, or that might go against his conscience, could still appear legal and acceptable to a military judicial system.
Giving a solider the right to refuse orders, he pointed out, was also not the same thing as elevating it to a movement.
“If you think that refusal as a movement will succeed, you are mistaken,” said Kretzmer-Raziel.
Cherlow went further, saying that calling on soldiers to disobey orders was teaching children that it was acceptable to break the law.
“Anyone who thinks that our children are growing up only with the language of love of the land, does not understand,” he said. Everyone has a red line they will not cross, he added, but when it becomes a movement or a rallying cry, it is a descent into “mob rule.”
As one of the original veterans of the settlement movement, Cherlow lamented that the religious Zionist movement had reached this point. “We are dividing the world into the good and the bad, and [believe] that everyone is in a conspiracy against us,” he said.
Many in the audience called out that his stance went against Halacha, because at some level it meant that he supported giving up land in Judea and Samaria.
He replied that he didn’t support giving up land, but did support the right of a democracy to set the borders of its state.
Still, he said, the withdrawal from territory and pulling people from their homes could be the kind of clearly immoral situation that could necessitate a refusal to follow orders.
“If the State of Israel would, God forbid, withdraw [from territory] the same way that it sacrificed settlements [in the past], I would see in this an unequivocal cause for insubordination,” Cherlow said.
In hindsight, he said, the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza might have been a situation in which he himself would have refused to obey orders. But, he added, he hadn’t believed then that soldiers should be encouraged to refuse orders, and he didn’t believe so now.
When quizzed by The Jerusalem Post
after the debate if he intended that his statement be a call to refuse orders, he clarified that he was talking about hypothetical situations and that he was not calling on soldiers to refuse orders.
Efrat Council head Oded Revivi, who organized the debate, said he wanted to move it from the IDF into civil society.
“This is the kind of discussion that should take place outside of the army,” he told The Jerusalem Post
Revivi said he personally did not support insubordination, as “it would be the end of the existence of a democratic state.”
In preparation for the debate, he commissioned the Ma’agar Mohot
polling company to conduct a survey on the issue. It found that 30
percent of the population supported the right of soldiers to refuse
orders, 59% opposed it and 11% were undecided.
The telephone survey of 548 people was conducted last week and had a
4.5% margin of error. Out of those surveyed, 51% were secular, 26% were
traditional, 12% were national religious, and 11% were haredi.
The survey found that support for insubordination was highest in the
haredi community (59%), followed by the national religious (49%),
secular (21%) and traditional (20%).