Did Bennet Bungle?

In a TV interview on YNet (view below), Naftali Bennet, head of the Bayit Hayudi Party, put the cat among the political pigeons with his comments on carrying out orders which are against one's conscience.

Bayit Hayhudi is estimated by the polls to be the third largest party in the upcoming elections.

According to politicians across the spectrum, Bennet gave his support during the interview for "refusal of orders".

This is a controversial topic in Israel from two perspectives:

1. Left wing soldiers who may refuse to serve in Yehuda & Shomron ("The West Bank"), particularly against Arabs.
2. Right wing soldiers who may refuse to carry out eviction orders of Jewish residents of Yehuda & Shomron.

Historically, the Left Wing refusers have been the most active, including the "shministim" (12th Graders") who have been active since 1970, notably claiming to represent thousands of teenagers who will not serve in the "occupied territories" in 1981 and in 2001.

There have been high profile multiple-signature letters from "The Combat Soldiers" (2002), "The Pilots" (2003) and "The Commandos" (2003), threatening to refuse orders to engage Arabs in combat.

The right winger refusers first became active with the initiative of Uri Elitzur, who used left wing slogans to claim that illegal orders against Jewish settlers must (by law) be refused by soldiers.

During the Gush Katif campaign of 2005, the anti-disengagement camp held high hopes for mass refusal of orders by soldiers, which could have stymied the evacuation plan. However, only individual cases of order refusal were reported - in part because many potential refusers were placed on other duties during the forced evacuation, or those who actually did refuse to board buses or participate in the evacuation were quietly (ie not reported in the media) imprisoned by the army during the mission.

In that context, Bennet was walking into a hot-topic when the interviewer asked his opinion about carrying out orders to evacuate Jewish homes.

He answers that he is against calling for order refusal. However, he, as an individual, and veteran soldier, is not capable of evicting Jewish or Arab civilians from their homes, due to his conscience; indeed he would rather go to prison than carry out such orders. He then repeats that he is against order refusal, per se, as this undermines military discipline and therefore the security of the country.

Politicians from Netanyahu downwards have rushed to condemn Bennet for "promoting order refusal". Bibi even went so far to say he would not have people who promote order refusal into his cabinet. (Quite a blow, if implemented, to the rising star Bennet, who has a strong personal connection with Netanyahu).

Of course, Bennet's message was short of promoting order refusal, but he did explain the dilemma felt by many national religious soldiers who are increasingly ordered to participate in missions against their fellow Jews, rather than Israel's military enemies.

Increasing proportions of combat soldiers are religious, and with Netanyau's declared backing for a Palestinian State, presumably requiring the evacuation of many Jewish residents, Bennet's very real dilemma can become a major factor in future evacuation plans.

While true and sincere, I think Bennet's stumble into that minefield topic was poorly timed, and gave the political vultures plenty of fodder to chew on.

However, with another month of dirty campaigns to go, I think it's JUST a stumble, not a fall.

(Video Hat-tip: Life In Israel).


  1. Please see my analysis of when refusing orders is right and when it's wrong.

  2. So, IDFers who evict Jews can look the heavenly bet din in the eyes and hope to reach heaven by claiming "I was just following orders?" That argument just doesn't hold up. Moral problem and all... led to millions of lost Jewish lives. Mimicking morally bankrupt nazi monsters is not the Jewish way.


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