Israel is fortunate to have a strong citizenry, one that not only cherishes the miracle of the creation of the State, but also still remembers the alternative possibilities – whether they were European oppression, autocratic Arab or Iranian regimes, or the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union.
The issue of judicial reform was always a cover for the Pandora’s box of deeper-seated social issues. The long-simmering tension between Ashkenazim and Mizrachim has somewhat morphed into a more class-oriented split between the elites of hi-tech and finance, and the rest of us. It is a split that exists widely in the Western world, most noticeably in the United States.
Yes, there have been tensions and frustration concerning a religious/secular divide, though, like the current state of Ashkenazim and Mizrachim, there has been intermarriage, mixing, and much greater nuance, certainly as concerns the kippah srugah (“crocheted”) world of religious Zionists.
Conversely, there has been considerable fear among anti-reformists that the larger issue is the country becoming unrecognizable to them. With religious leaders in the vanguard of ideological change, the Supreme Court, ironically, is seen as the bulwark of democracy, even though the court itself defines an unaccountable oligarchy.
I believe that the legislative hiatus that has just begun will encourage regular people to ask what it is that they want.
Do they want to obliterate their opponents, to somehow turn the clock back to a different Israel, less religious and more liberal than we are today? (In other words are they interested in ignoring reality?) Do they see their neighbors as the embodiment of that which they could never accept nor abide?
I don’t think so. Anecdotally, I am hearing of increasing numbers of sitdowns and discussion groups that allow people to see the humanity of those holding opposing views.
This presents us with a situation where, ironically, people who oppose each other actually agree on many important issues – and where there is a surprising amount of common ground. It is the recognition of that common ground that can be the door-opener to a lessening of the civil temperature in the country.
The IDF: An issue of overwhelming consensus
Let me suggest one domain where there is likely to be overwhelming consensus, a domain that can be an important area of reconciliation in an of itself. I am speaking of the IDF.
People of goodwill, by and large intuitively, cringe at the idea that pilots and other reservists can decide whether they will continue to show up for reserve duty. Implicitly, as public intellectual Micah Goodman points out, this turns the military into a fourth branch of the government, where military decisions might be made based on or influenced by pending policy issues.
Goodman astutely points out that the decision by reservists not to show up for duty, based on the Knesset’s passage of reform legislation, is a classic case of what I would call “Watch what you wish for,” and what he invokes as an example of the law of unintended consequences.
Quite simply, in the not-too-distant future, there might be a controversial policy, say, as Goodman supposes, a government decision to uproot settlements in Samaria. Would it be a great stretch of the imagination to envision thousands of religious Zionist, kippah-srugah-wearing soldiers, the backbone of many of the combat units in the IDF, taking a page from today’s pilots and saying, no, we’re not doing that. And they would have a precedent that they could point to by way of justification.
Few of us would want to see the IDF so hamstrung.
So, I think we can start a process of turning down the civil temperature by invoking an IDF where all who are called upon to serve do so, where political opinions are checked at the gates to a base, and where the integrity of the IDF as a non-political, consensual defender of the entire population, under all circumstances, is maintained.
Calling on all reservists to act in the best interests of the country has two important repercussions. For one, it can be an example that others on both sides of the divide can follow and build upon.
The other is to send a much-needed message to our adversaries, especially those on our borders, that we will not be torn apart by internal dissension. The recent provocations by Hezbollah must be seen as related to a perception that Israel is now distracted, riven, and therefore weakened. Perhaps this is the time for us, Hezbollah to take advantage of the situation.
It is not too late to address the reservists issue. In fact, with the Knesset in recess, this could be the perfect time for grassroots expressions of the need for solidarity to be made. The IDF prides itself on its doctrine of purity of arms. We, the citizens of Israel, want the IDF and those who serve in it to invoke a doctrine of the purity of service: We serve because we are soldiers, Israeli soldiers, defending the country and its citizens, regardless of who heads or leads the government, and the policies that they might adopt.
The writer is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund.