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Courage to Refuse > Article > Different Kinds of Refusal - by Dan Rabinovitz
Different Kinds of Refusal - by Dan Rabinovitz 21/11/2004
 
 
The generals' and leaders' concept of the dangers of refusal therefore stems more from the socialization process they underwent, as soldiers and as males, in a military world that sanctifies submissiveness and compliance. It would be worth their while to calm down.

Senior army officers and other public figures have recently gone to great lengths to express the fear that refusal will be a concrete threat to state and society in Israel. Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon devoted a great deal of attention to the subject in the weeks preceding the passing of the disengagement law in the Knesset. The former president of the Supreme Court, Meir Shamgar, a former senior army official, recently issued a stern warning against refusal.

Like many in
Israel, they regard refusal as refusal, whether it comes from the left or the right. If we treat it lightly, they are convinced, it will erode the foundations of the regime and will undermine essential institutions and the sovereignty of the regime.

The term refusal, by its very definition, is relevant mainly within coercive frameworks. An army that is based on compulsory service does not allow one to resign. When a soldier does not want, or is unable, to carry out an order given by an authorized commander, he can only refuse and pay a high personal price. Generals, of course, abhor such cases. They would like to believe that obedience and discipline are supreme values, and that the suspension of the individual's discretion is always justified by operational considerations.

The generals' and leaders' concept of the dangers of refusal therefore stems more from the socialization process they underwent, as soldiers and as males, in a military world that sanctifies submissiveness and compliance. It would be worth their while to calm down. Most of the soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, like most of the public in the country and in the world, carry out the tasks imposed on them willingly and out of choice and identification. The silent majority, on whose acquiescence so many of the institutions of government are based, does not seek pretexts to upset the existing order. The majority seeks order and stability, is prepared to compromise over the demands that the system imposes, succeeds in identifying with its aims, and most of the time also tries to convince itself that the means are good and the direction is correct.

The group of generals that is in charge in Israel today must also remind itself from time to time that it is good that people are not robots, and that it is good that most of the institutions in which we find ourselves leave us sufficient leeway for freedom and discretion so that the individual can act according to his internal call of conscience. And what is most important - and worth their while, and that of the entire public, to understand once and for all before it is too late - is that there is a vast difference between the benign refusal of the left, which has existed here in one form or another for dozens of years, and between the malignant atmosphere emanating from the threats of refusal on the part of the messianic right.

The refusal of the left is benign both because of what it contains and what it does not. It pays tribute to the individual and regards his conscience as a quantity that can, and sometimes must, have priority over the need to obey or the desire to keep the law. But it does not propose an organized institutional hierarchy that will compete with the rule of law or overshadow it.

Refusal on the right, on the other hand, endangers the rule of law in a substantive way. Not because of the vague threat that perhaps there will be several hundred or thousand soldiers with kipot who, on the day of the order, will feel that they are not able to evacuate settlements and will refuse.

The true danger is that for years the messianic right has allowed the cauldron to simmer with the type of values that will prepare people's hearts to accept a messianic version of nationalist Judaism as an alternative and preferable source of political legitimacy.

The call to refusal in the name of Halakhic doctrine, which supposedly is morally superior to the rule of law, is what endangers the regime in
Israel. The fact that these calls emanate from the rabbinic establishment, which sanctifies the right of its leaders to establish the limits of the rule of law and to define where it should be annuled in the face of theocracy, of course enormously increases the gravity of the danger.

Sharon and Shamgar and Ya'alon and Mofaz, who did not loose their cool over the conscientious objection of individuals on the left for dozens of years, are doing so now before even one person on the right has actually refused. Perhaps they realize that the true threat to the rule of law and to governance in
Israel does not stem from refusal as such, but rather from the determined attempts to create a source of alternative political authority in Israel.

 

The article was originally published in Haaretz, 18.11.04

 


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