Israeli education minister calls refuseniks ‘radical element of reality,’ but they’re in the ‘NYT’

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Last month over 50 alumni of the Israel Arts and Science Academy called on students at the prestige school to refuse to serve in the Israeli armed forces. The story has gotten wide coverage but very little in the U.S. till now. Here are some developments.

First, Moriel Rothman-Zecker was published on the New York Times op-ed page– “Why I Won’t Serve Israel” — where he points out that the ethos of service in Israel is being undermined on many sides, not just by the IASA letter. A tiny fraction of the 1.7 million Palestinians inside Israel serve in the army; hundreds of thousands of religious Jews don’t serve; and thousands of Jews are in a “gray area” of getting out of service. He sees this community as contending with Israel’s power structure:

In a recent interview, the Israeli author Amos Oz urged politicians to act as “traitors,” and make peace. But the type of traitors Mr. Oz wishes for — visionary ministers, peace-minded military men — are nonexistent. The most left-wing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s potential challengers in Israel’s coming election is the same Mr. Herzog who attacked the 8200 refusers.

Peace won’t come from the next Knesset, or the one after that. But some hope for a less violent, more decent future lies with the real traitors, the disregarded millions of Israeli citizens who have refused to serve in the army.

Of course, Rothman-Zecker also describes the monolithic social pressure to serve: “Refusal to serve is portrayed by politicians and pundits — many of whom began their careers through service in elite units — as treacherous and marginal.”

On that note, here is Ronnie Barkan, one of the signers of the IASA alumni letter, going on Israel television and speaking of massacres in Gaza and keeping his cool during an onslaught of hostile questions. Barkan shows real bravery as the hosts blow up at him for saying that Israel is not a democracy. Those hosts are Orly and Guy on Channel 10, who I am told are on the left side of the Israeli mainstream spectrum.

“Your call for refusal is illegal. Your call harms the state… I will not accept harming the state,” Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons in Israeli actions, catechizes Barkan.

She cannot hear the word massacre– but of course many in the world regard Gaza as a massacre; it has had a huge impact on global opinion. While the male TV host loses his cool at 10:23, shouting at Barkan about “people who come through tunnels to kill children.”

At minute 11, Avi Wortzman, the acting Israeli minister of education, rebukes Barkan as representing a “radical element of reality.” “You stain the name of the school,” he says. And the principal there “washes his hands of you.”

“What you do here is anarchy. What you do here is undermining our most basic values of life here.”

So Barkan is excommunicated.

Finally, Russia Today scooped American media with this wonderful interview by Abby Martin of Amit Gilutz, a composer evidently living in New York, who helped to organize the IASA letter to stop the next generation of “obedient soldiers.”

Gilutz says the indoctrination of children to be soldiers begins in kindergarten, with uniformed teachers visiting schools. The depiction of Palestinians is racist, as being either terrorists or primitive farmers, per Nurit Peled-Elhanan’s study. Students are encouraged to learn Arabic as a “tool to be used against the Palestinian people, and with a very high degree of cooperation between the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Education on that point.” This goes along with politicians trying to “script a more narrow Zionist narrative… normalizing the occupation by sending students to Hebron.”

Gilutz criticizes deputy minister Tzipi Hotovely for calling the letter a wakeup call.

I agree with what she says but I don’t think we mean the same thing…. What she means by that is that we need to indoctrinate students even more forcefully to put these ideological walls around them, so they won’t be able to see through the cracks. And trying to create the crack is what we are doing with this letter… [We are saying] Look, The education that you’re receiving is at best a manipulation, you’re only being given the tools to rationalize reality and to accept your own role in it as the oppressor, as someone who is about to take an active role in the dispossession of Palestinians, in the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and in participating in the crimes of occupation and apartheid.

It’s actually against Israeli law to urge others not to serve. We could end up being prosecuted, Gilutz says.

Reporter Martin thanks him for his bravery. Amen.

Thanks to Ofer Neiman and Annie Robbins. 

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If Israel put an an end to it,s war crimes and colonialist project it would not need conscription.

It,s citizens could turn their efforts to building a different Israel.One where equal rights and justice are given to all.

Obviously, it’s an important story for Israel, but like most Americans I’m just a observer. I wish I could say that I am not affected, but of course my government’s actions make me complicit, and blowback affects the U.S. Maybe Americans who are also Israelis are more than observers. Does saying that the U.S. media were “scooped” imply that they wanted to cover this, but didn’t get it first?

The politics of the NYT is interesting. These folks belong around the Park Slope, Brooklyn crowd. The Op-Ed from the refusenik wasn’t really that spectacular. It still tried to paint being a refusenik as an “Israeli patriot”. In other words, the “I’ll change the system from the inside” liberal Zionism that we all know is a joke. However, no matter how pathetic that kind of propaganda is, it’s still notable that the NYT seems to… Read more »

“the disregarded millions of Israeli citizens who have refused to serve in the army.” “Millions” ? Without the requisite military training and ability to handle military weapons and accept military discipline? Without the ability common to those who serve, of fitting quickly back into military roles and standards in some capacity? They might not even be able to recognize IDF rank insignia. “Millions seems like a lot, but I hope Moriel Rothman-Zecker use of the… Read more »

I think “millions” is inaccurate, perhaps highly inaccurate. Abby Martin’s session with Amit Gilutz is another example of her fortitude in interviewing people on the forefront of resistance, including I/P. She is an adventurous visual artist. Her husband (or boyfriend) is an experimental electronic composer. Maybe that gives her an edge in interviewing Gilutz, whose mixed media music has attracted me for some time. From over 50 years of observing and knowing contentious objectors,… Read more »