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There is no ‘military coup’ in Israel, just civilians defending their democracy

Since the sixth Netanyahu government took office, there is no aspect of its work in which improvement can be reported (File/AFP)
Since the sixth Netanyahu government took office, there is no aspect of its work in which improvement can be reported (File/AFP)
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30 Aug 2023 12:08:05 GMT9
30 Aug 2023 12:08:05 GMT9

Deflection is the main forte of the current government in Israel led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For a year and half, while they were on the opposition benches, its current members constantly blamed the former coalition government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid for anything and everything, even if the reality of the situation pointed the finger of blame in exactly the opposite direction.

The then government was blamed for every terrorist attack, for Iran’s adventurism, whether conventional or nuclear, for the growing cost-of-living crisis, and even for financing Hamas.

For the people making the accusations, it was a case of the more outlandish, the better as they constantly looked for ways to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses, including harassing and, allegedly, bribing members of the Knesset to cross the floor and join the opposition.

Eventually, the government collapsed and the process culminated in the election last November, as a result of which the most right-wing and chaotic government in Israel’s history was formed.

Since the sixth Netanyahu government took office in late December, there is not a single aspect of its work in which improvement can be reported. Instead, the country is in complete turmoil.

The security situation in the West Bank is spiraling out of control. There is a record number of homicides among the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Hezbollah is becoming bolder in its provocations along the border between Israel and Lebanon. Government corruption is becoming the rule and not the exception. The weekly demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Israelis against the government’s judicial coup continue. And more Israelis than ever are indicating that they want to leave the country.

Netanyahu and his loyal, misguided lieutenants respond to all of this by lying, issuing denials and continuing to blame their political opponents.

We are in a situation where the values of these volunteers no longer align with a government that is attacking the country’s judiciary

Yossi Mekelberg

One of the most interesting, not to say disturbing and concerning, aspects of this confrontation is the irresponsible attacks by members of the coalition, including senior cabinet members, on the security forces, including its most senior officers, and on those reservists who have stated they will refuse to volunteer for service until the government’s assault on the democratic foundations of the state is halted.

Some of the venomous attacks on the reservists, many of them posted on social media, range from the ridiculous to the libelous, including accusations of a military coup instigated by the “deep state” and supposedly financed by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Some ministers and coalition members of the Knesset seem to be forgetting that they are the ones currently in power and so whatever is going wrong is happening under their watch. They need to own that instead of behaving as if they have just read “QAnon For Beginners.”

Many of the reservists they are criticizing are members of elite units of pilots, special forces, cybersecurity specialists, naval officers and other key parts of the military. The reckless and wild accusations and denunciations targeting them, including the allegation that their refusal to volunteer is a “military coup,” are laughable but also reveal the authoritarian tendencies of the current government.

It is perhaps worth reminding the coalition that the verb “to volunteer” denotes an agreement to undertake a task of one’s own free will, and the fact that the reservists are not obliged, contractually or by law, to undertake any tasks.

We are in a situation where the values of these volunteers no longer align with a government that is attacking the country’s judiciary. Therefore they are questioning why they should devote their time, and potentially risk their lives, to suppress the rights of others by doing the dirty work of a government whose intentions and judgments they distrust, and by doing such work risk the possibility of appearing before an international tribunal.

Those who have withdrawn their generous readiness to volunteer, to be away from home and from their families and to put their lives on the line for their country, argue, and rightly so, that they signed up to serve a democracy, not a government that is ravaging the very democratic arrangements that have prevailed for decades, and which is embracing corruption by undermining the independence of the judiciary.

After all, reservists are civilians who go above and beyond their obligations in terms of military service, and do not put on their uniforms until called up. The term “military coup” is therefore just another attempt to smear these defenders of the democratic system.

Such insults are even more despicable coming from a government that is stuffed with draft dodgers and others who, with their ultraright ideology and support of terrorism, are considered by Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, too dangerous to be mobilized by the Israel Defense Forces.

As much as defending the Supreme Court is the prodemocracy movement’s top priority, and rightly so, that court is an institution that has whitewashed many of the human rights abuses committed by Israel’s occupation forces, and protected Israeli soldiers from being indicted abroad. For decades, it has allowed two very different systems of justice to exist for those on each side of the Green Line, and has put hardly a hurdle in the way of the establishment of an apartheid regime in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Yet those in the coalition who represent settlers have been relentlessly attacking the military and the judiciary, accusing them of being soft on terrorism, or hurling at them the greatest insult they can find in their very limited vocabulary — that of being “lefties.”

This is rich, coming as it does from people who have senior representatives in government who do not exactly have distinguished records of serving in the military. Itamar Ben-Gvir, who ironically is now the minister of national security, was barred from compulsory service in the IDF because of far-right activism in his youth, including with the Kahanist terrorist organization Kach, and has convictions for supporting terrorism and racism.

Then there is his fellow racist, Bezalel Smotrich, a defense minister in addition to his incompetent attempts to serve as finance minister. Smotrich, who this year called for the Palestinian village of Hawara to be wiped out, deferred his enlistment in the military to study at a yeshiva, before serving a short spell in the IDF in his 20s, and has never been as a reservist.

These are hardly credentials that confer any right to criticize, in the vilest of terms, those who have spent most of their lives in the service of their country’s security forces.

In truth, diatribes such as the one delivered by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, a member of the Likud party, who said that protesting pilots can “go to hell,” represent a panicked response from a bunch of ministers, and others, who are out of their depth in the face of popular resistance and an exponential rise in violence both inside Israel and in the West Bank. All they are capable of is blowing their tops in frustration.

If they truly care about Israel’s security, they should do the right thing and halt their harmful antidemocratic legislation, and do so immediately.

  • Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg
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