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Rosner’s Domain | Whataboutism Disobedience

And once again Israel is caught up in a discussion about mutiny.
[additional-authors]
May 29, 2024
(Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

And once again Israel is caught up in a discussion about mutiny. This is a dangerous discussion. It was dangerous a year ago, when it was held during the turmoil of the legal reform, and it is dangerous today, when it is held in the shadow of war. It鈥檚 an indication of disintegration of a society. It鈥檚 an indication of fear, and lack of trust, and a sense of helplessness. This is what a country looks like at a breaking point.

The issue was raised again with a viral video by an IDF reservist who called for mutiny. 鈥淲e reservist soldiers do not intend to hand the keys [to Gaza] over to any Palestinian authority,鈥 the masked, armed, uniformed soldier said. If such orders will be forthcoming, the soldiers will not accept them. Ah, and Defense Minister Gallant must resign. The video was shared in right-wing circles. It was shared by the PM鈥檚 son. The soldier was identified, questioned and dismissed from future reserve duty.

But an uproar ensued. One that merits discussion. The tendency of the media and the public was to debate the issue by asking who was first to make mutiny an acceptable political tool. The right says 鈥測ou did it first鈥 during the legal reform upheaval. The center-left says 鈥渢he two cases aren鈥檛 the same.鈥

Of course, the more important question is not who is to blame, but how the fissure can be repaired. There are those who think that this can be done with a general, binding condemnation of any hint of possible disobedience. They are wrong: Disobedience is a tool that cannot be canceled in a democratic society. We can denounce it, we can punish it, we can make it socially illegitimate, but we can’t eliminate it.

Why does it seem that in today’s Israel there is an expanding discourse of disobedience? The reason is simple: Citizens do not trust their leadership.

Why does it seem that in today’s Israel there is an expanding discourse of disobedience? The reason is simple: Citizens do not trust their leadership. So much so that they are ready to break the rules. And of course, here we must be precise: there is a difference between disagreement 鈥 every government faces an opposition 鈥 and lack of trust 鈥 a situation in which disagreement is translated into the assumption that the government is acting in an illegitimate manner. A citizen can think that the government is making a wrong decision. This is one situation. In a calm country, such a citizen obeys even a wrong decision. A citizen can also think that the government is making an illegitimate decision. That鈥檚 a different situation. In a country where many of the citizens believe that the government is illegitimate, the circles of those who threaten to disobey, or disobey, will expand.

Those who threatened not to show up for reserve duty during the legal reform period did not think that the government was wrong. They thought that the government was working to destroy the foundations of democracy. Those who are now hinting at the possibility of mutiny do not think that IDF commanders are basing their decisions of the wrong tactics. They think that they are working to undermine Israel’s chances of winning. In both cases, trust is low. In both cases, the allegation is serious. In both cases, decision makers are not portrayed as stupid, but rather as malicious. In both cases, the threats are motivated by fear 鈥 the fear of losing democracy, the fear of losing the war. In both cases, the citizens have a sense of helplessness. They are facing forces stronger than them, and feel they have no other choice but to break the sacred rules.

The comparison between the two cases, that of the reform and that of the war, is far from perfect. There are cases of disobedience that have more justification and cases that have less. Whoever says “any case of mutiny is legitimate” or “no case of mutiny is legitimate” is making life too easy for themselves. Hence, the correct question is never whether “the other side鈥 also used the same tool 鈥 the correct question in each case is “does the current situation justify mutiny.”And consistency does not mean that whoever says about one case that “it is not justified” must also say the same about the other case. Consistency means offering a convincing reasoning 鈥 that is not tainted by the political bias 鈥 why both cases are justified, or not justified, or one is and the other is not.

And after reasoning, we are still left with the main challenge: restoring trust in Israel鈥檚 leadership. As long as there are too many citizens in Israel who believe that their government 鈥 current or otherwise 鈥 is making malicious moves for improper reasons – and not just wrong moves for deficient reasons – it will be difficult for the government to call on the citizens to accept its decisions even when they disagree with them.

So, the main task becomes clear. The discourse of Whataboutism, the discourse of condemnation, the tweets of childish provocateurs 鈥 all these only deepen the cracks, and therefore strengthen the trends that led us to a dangerous place in which mutiny-talk becomes routine. The main task is strengthening the public’s trust in the leadership. And this requires profound change in the conduct of the government, profound change in the composition of the government, profound change in the culture of the government.

Something I wrote in Hebrew

Before the government voted on Haredi military exception, former Chief of the Airforce Eliezer Shkedi submitted a report to Defense minister Yoav Gallant with a detailed plan for the IDF on how to prepare to absorb ultra-Orthodox soldiers (in case they come). Here鈥檚 something I wrote about this report:

The report, the main point of which is the acceptance of the ultra-Orthodox claim that the IDF is not prepared to absorb the Haredim, and perhaps does not want them. Hence, it is a reflection on the IDF’s preparedness for the possibility of a mass recruitment of ultra-Orthodox, which will make the “IDF is unprepared and unwilling” argument redundant. Oh, and it makes another unnecessary point: The claim that the IDF has no need for ultra-Orthodox recruits is rejected. There is a place and there is a need.

A week鈥檚 numbers

What should leaders do? This is from the May JPPI survey of Israelis.

A reader鈥檚 response:

Dafni Allinson asks: 鈥淒o you still think Israel can win the war?鈥 Answer: Like most Israelis, my confidence level is down, and yet, I understand he essentiality of winning and hence hope that it can somehow be achieved.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner鈥檚 Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

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