Opinion Articles

Habayit Hayehudi and Refusal of Orders: The Real Question

There are different kinds of calls for military insubordination. Some people who advocate refusal of orders are motivated by the desire to thwart the implementation of national decisions that have been made democratically; consequently, they call for mass civil disobedience or for disobedience by those who would be responsible for implementing the national decision, such as air force pilots ordered, for example, to bomb Iran. Reckless appeals of this nature are a moral danger and a practical threat to Israel’s existence and are antithetical to the values of democracy. As such, they demand a strong response.

Other people do not call on others to refuse, but assert that they themselves cannot accept the majority decision for reasons of ideology and conscience, and are therefore refusing orders as individuals. These conscientious objectors stand up for their beliefs, but also understand and identify with the need to implement democratic decisions. Knowing that mass refusal of orders could endanger the lives of many and destroy the sovereignty of the State of Israel, they are willing to pay the price for their insubordination; in fact, they are even supposed to request punishment for their personal decisions. A democratic state must know how to contain such objectors, who must be both respected and punished.

Former Attorney General Menachem (Meni) Mazuz was aware of this distinction when he stated that he could “understand young people who stand up for their beliefs and ideology” and added that conscientious objection by an individual can even be seen as a “positive phenomenon” that indicates social involvement and concern. Mazuz, however, rightly stated that such individuals must “pay the price for refusing orders.”

Where does Naftali Bennett as an individual stand on the question of refusing orders and where does his party, Habayit Hayehudi, stand on this issue?

In his interview on Nissim Mishal’s television program, Bennett did not call for the first kind of military insubordination. He said explicitly that a soldier is obligated to fulfill military orders, and I believe this to be his true position. He did, however, assert that there are certain situations in which he himself would be unable to follow orders and would be forced to resort to the second kind of insubordination: personal, conscientious objection. I see this as an honest statement that deserves to be respected, in the spirit of the position of former Attorney General Mazuz. Concurrently, however, Naftali Bennett must be prepared to bear the consequences of his statement. He must protect himself from having his words distorted by political rivals with their own personal interests. If it turns out that Bennett’s party is negatively impacted by his statement, however, as an ideologue and person of truth, he should be glad that his willingness to choose civil disobedience was not taken casually by his constituents and had a political price.

The larger question, however, remains: Is the party that Bennett heads willing to tolerate insubordination of the first kind—insubordination that is intended to prevent the implementation of national decisions such as the decision to evacuate outposts? As everyone knows, some religious Zionist rabbis call for this type of refusal of orders. In the name of their religious worldview, they instruct their students, who are soldiers and officers in the Israel Defense Forces, to refuse orders in order to prevent the execution of national decisions. Does HaBayit Hayehudi renounce those rabbis and take exception to their destructive views? It is incumbent upon Bennett and his party to give a clear and unequivocal answer to this question.
The leaders of Habayit Hayehudi must declare, in very clear language, that they stand firmly alongside the republic and that they will support the implementation of democratic decisions in the future even if rabbis issue rulings calling for insubordination. The party’s potential voters—whether religious or secular—must have a clear answer to this question. 

Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern is Vice President of Research at the Israel Democracy Institute, where he heads the Religion and State project and the Human Rights and Judaism project, and a member of the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University.

A version of this article was published in Hebrew in Yedioth Ahronoth on December 24, 2012