One chain of command
The government must not give in to those who do not accept its authority, particularly if certain rabbis threaten that their students will not enlist in the army.
It appears Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi lost his patience this week after the incitement by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the head of the Har Bracha hesder yeshiva. Ashkenazi took the uncharacteristic step of recommending to Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the yeshiva be removed from the hesder arrangement, in which religious studies are combined with military service.
Ashkenazi is right. Melamed permits himself to excoriate the IDF, both orally and in writing, to dismiss the authority of its commanders and to call on his students to disobey orders. This also happened during the Gaza disengagement, after which then-chief of staff Dan Halutz recommended that yeshivas whose rabbis encourage the refusal of orders be removed from the hesder arrangement. It is happening even more now in the face of the limited construction freeze in the settlements.
The defense minister is loath to take the chief of staff's advice. People close to Barak argue that the pressure to sever the relationship between the army and the yeshivas is causing a closing of the ranks, and that even moderate rabbis are voicing support for the hesder yeshivas. In light of this, they say, harsher measures should not be taken against those calling for the refusal of military orders.
That is a mistake. The government must not give in to those who do not accept its authority, particularly if certain rabbis threaten that their students will not enlist in the army. The more the state ignores the incitement in the hesder yeshivas, the more it allows it to grow.
This growth is not "spiritual," as the rabbis label it. By virtue of the rabbi's position and the special arrangement between the army and the yeshiva, this growth effectively means a division of authority. The inciting rabbi is not "expressing his opinion." He is telling his students to do the opposite of what their commanders instruct them to do. This division is a surefire recipe for the breakup of the army and a sign of anarchy.
The rabbis' disingenuous claim that, just like university professors, they have the right to freedom of expression is completely groundless; the army has no arrangement with an academic institution similar to what it maintains with the hesder yeshivas. There is also no similarity between the influence of a professor, however charismatic, and the authority of a yeshiva head. Yet the fact that the rabbis of all the yeshivas have rallied around the inciting rabbi helps prove the inadequacy of their leadership.
About two weeks ago, at the annual memorial for David and Paula Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there is no place for refusal, there are no ideological factions in the IDF and there is a single chain of command. The chief of staff's recommendation puts that declaration to the test.
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