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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. 

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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14 Responses

  1. amigo on January 13, 2015, 1:24 pm

    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.

  2. Boomer on January 13, 2015, 3:12 pm

    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?

  3. Krauss on January 13, 2015, 3:53 pm

    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 be shifting again to the left. We see this whenever there’s a lull in BDS activism(like in the past 6 months), the NYT shifts left. As soon as BDS heats up, it starts to shift right.

    Of course, I’m only talking about the Op-Ed pages. The news coverage continues to be atrocious. As usual.

  4. Mooser on January 13, 2015, 6:01 pm

    “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 number is fairly accurate.

    • pabelmont on January 18, 2015, 10:22 am

      The “millions” (if accurate) probably includes the ultra-orthodox and all those seeking exemption for mental health reasons (real or merely asserted). My guess? Many Israelis seek exemption for many of the same reasons that many Americans during the times of the draft sought exemption — as I did during Vietnam — and (with perhaps better access to exemption for the wealthy (recall GWBush ?).

      Most refusers (refuseniks) would presumably not be ideologically unwilling to serve as Moriel Rothman-Zecher was and as the Druse viola player Omar Saad was (see NYT).

  5. Philip Munger on January 14, 2015, 4:21 am

    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.

    http://www.amitgilutz.com/live/

    From over 50 years of observing and knowing contentious objectors, they are generally far more heroic than our sanctified “warriors.” It is always tough branding one’s entire life with such a label as contentious objector. However, a far smaller number or percentage of contentious objectors end up blowing their brains out or sleeping under bridges than do our combat veterans.

    • Mooser on January 16, 2015, 5:35 pm

      Phillip, I’d really like to think she said “millions” for a reason. Could that number, or anything like it, be approached if it took into consideration all those in Israel not required to serve, but who could conceivably volunteer if they wanted? And those not permitted to serve?
      In addition to, of course, the refuseniks.
      It’s such an interesting remark, and there’s those “Israeli citizens” again, I never quite know who that includes.

      But Phillip, more than likely, the “millions” is an (for whatever reason) inaccuracy, as you say.

  6. Marnie on January 14, 2015, 9:06 am

    It continues to get crazier and crazier. I see people yelling into the faces of others calling them unpatriotic, antisemitic, enemies of the state and the like and think of very frightening times. The nazi Judge Roland Freisler screaming and shouting down the doomed accused before him. Sen. Joe McCarthy and friends fear and paranoia campaigns and “red terror” trials. I’ve also been reminded of the sheep in the book Animal House, who on cue by their porcine master, would shout down dissenters and make any discussion impossible with the constant bleating “Four legs goooood, two legs baaaad” and later, when the piggies started to emulate human beings “Four legs gooooood, two legs better”. Yikes.

    • Marnie on January 14, 2015, 11:11 am

      Oh My God, Animal House! I’m so sorry for not using the edit function and I meant Animal Farm! Senioritis strikes again.

  7. hjmetro on January 14, 2015, 9:39 am

    It’s so sad that Americans need the vile Kremlin propaganda channel RT to get some real news!

  8. a blah chick on January 14, 2015, 12:35 pm

    This was my favorite part of the article:

    “WHAT are you,” he asked, “a leftist?”

    We were both wearing the surplus United States Marines uniforms given to prisoners at Israeli Military Jail No. 6.

    “It depends how you define ‘left,’ ” I said.

    “Don’t get clever with me. Why are you here?”

    “I didn’t want to be part of a system whose main task is the violent occupation of millions of people.”

    “In other words: You love Arabs, and don’t care about Israeli security.”

    “I think the occupation undermines all of our security, Palestinians’ and Israelis’.”

    “You’re betraying your people,” he said.

    “Why are you here?” I asked.

    “Me? Desertion.”

    Me: Isn’t that the same type of logic we’re use to as Mondoites?

    • American on January 14, 2015, 2:29 pm

      ” We were both wearing the surplus United States Marines uniforms given to prisoners at Israeli Military Jail No. 6”

      They really use US Marine uniforms for prisoners?
      I am sure they could find something more suitable so I think the insult intended by that is very clear.

  9. John Salisbury on January 14, 2015, 4:25 pm

    Ronnie Barkan.Carve his name with pride.

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