The prime minister and chief of staff should be highly commended for their firm and unequivocal response to the disgraceful and despicable display by a handful of soldiers in the Shimshon and Nachshon battalions. Their statements speak for themselves, and nothing else is necessary. The swift response by the Israel Defense Forces' commanders and the penalties imposed on the insubordinate soldiers were also appropriate.
But the truth is that the soldiers' staged political demonstration is not the main issue. The really important matter is to understand the army's function and purpose in a proper democratic state. Here we are witnessing a deliberate and malicious attempt to distort this understanding. The real danger lies in the stupid, false idea that the extreme right is using shrewd and sophisticated methods to market to the public the idea that the IDF's function and purpose are to protect the state only from its external enemies, and that it must not fulfill any other task.
The army is "Israel's defense army" and must not deal with Israeli civilians - that's the job of the police, these people say. This is a very simple, understandable idea that could sound convincing because clearly the IDF's main role is to protect the state from its enemies. But actually it's a groundless idea that runs contrary to the fundamental principles of a modern democratic state.
The first rule of every democracy is that the army is the elected government's long arm designed to carry out any legal mission dictated by the government. This has always been the custom in every proper democratic state. The extreme right-wingers speak loftily of democracy, but their real purpose is to forcibly impose the minority's opinion on the majority.
In Northern Ireland - a sovereign British territory - it was not the police but the British Army that was responsible for keeping public order, and this army did not hesitate to open fire on British civilians. U.S. soldiers did not act only on the battlefields of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. President Dwight Eisenhower sent the paratroopers to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a federal court order to enable black children to go to a racially segregated school. During the Vietnam War, soldiers enforced order at American universities against the violent antiwar demonstrations. In the streets of Los Angeles, the military acted to restore order during riots, and soldiers fired live bullets at looters in the streets of New Orleans after the disaster wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. In all these cases, the army acted against civilians.
The basis for every state's existence is a monopoly on the use of force, to implement the people's sovereignty and desires. The elected government carries out this monopoly using the armed forces that are subordinate to its authority - the police and army. The correct argument that the army is sovereign in the West Bank, and as such is both police and army, is unnecessary. If the Knesset decides tomorrow that the national interest requires an evacuation of Ramat Aviv, the government has all the legal and moral authority to employ the IDF to do so. Not the rabbis, only the Supreme Court may rule that a Knesset decision or any law is patently illegal.
Fortunately, the IDF has an intelligent, ideological, moral and obedient senior staff that knows and clearly states that the army does not choose its missions but loyally fulfills any legal task assigned by the government.
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