Ben-Gvir is not qualified to advise the IDF on military ethics - opinion

Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism, should not be in a position to advise the IDF on military ethics.

 Itamar Ben-Gvir. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Itamar Ben-Gvir.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

So this is how the moral and ethical fabric of Israeli society begins to unravel at the seams when under the democratically elected government a far-right extremist politician such as Itamar Ben-Gvir believes that the punishment meted out by the IDF to soldiers who make political exhortations and who severely beat-up left-wing activists at checkpoints should be annulled.

If the national security minister publicly objects to decisions taken by commanders within the army, how confident will those commanders feel the next time they deal with the unethical conduct of soldiers?

Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism, should not be in a position to advise the IDF on military ethics.

Ben-Gvir's ultra-nationalist history

Already at the age of 16, Ben-Gvir joined Kach, an ultra-nationalist movement described by America as a terrorist organization. Kach was led by Meir Kahane, a violent anti-Arab nationalist who called for Arab Israelis to be stripped of their citizenship. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a fellow Kach adherent, killed 29 Palestinians in a mosque in the occupied West Bank; until he entered politics Ben-Gvir hung a poster of Goldstein in his home.

Ben-Gvir made a name for himself in 1995, after being exempted from conscription to the IDF because of his extreme views by threatening 

Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, on television, saying he would “get to him.” Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli ultra-nationalist three weeks later.

 US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan walk along the Colonnade of the White House, last week. They’ve hinted at the possibility of not working with Itamar Ben-Gvir (credit: Andrew Harnik/Reuters) US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan walk along the Colonnade of the White House, last week. They’ve hinted at the possibility of not working with Itamar Ben-Gvir (credit: Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan hinted during their meetings with President Isaac Herzog at the possibility of not working with Ben-Gvir and other right-wing extremists. “We hope all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of open democratic society including tolerance and respect for all minority groups,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Is the moral resilience of Israeli society being eroded?

The ethical conduct of soldiers or the tenets of international humanitarian law that they are expected to uphold are critical safeguards against the erosion of the moral resilience of an Israeli society in which practically all civilians have served in the IDF. What happens in the military impacts the manner in which civil liberties within society are maintained.

These civil liberties cannot be taken for granted, and commanders in the IDF should be entrusted to educate their troops on the importance of the proportional and discriminate implementation of force, unhindered by outside inflammatory rhetoric and political exigence.

I am not comforted by Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise that he will be able to manage this coalition of extremism and by his statements that he wants politics to be kept out of the army. He is facing multiple corruption charges and has a vested interest in appeasing his right-wing partners, who will have the power to introduce laws that will afford him protection from prosecution.

This unfortunate political constellation has allowed Ben-Gvir to demand the portfolio of minister of national (not internal) security, a post that would put him in charge of the Israeli police and policies around Jerusalem’s holy sites, including al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

It is clear and hopefully obvious to all that Israel retains the right to protect itself militarily. It is equally clear that as a nation in arms, it has a heavy responsibility to uphold civil liberties. Yes, it is a delicate and at times Herculean balancing act but it is a vital one, for the line between democracy and a modern-day Sparta is a thin one, indeed.

The writer is a professor and artist based in Israel, and the executive director of the European International Society for Military Ethics.