Civil Rights NGO to IDF: Let Soldiers Join Protests

Standing order bars uniformed soldiers from publicly stating political opinions, or even taking part in Rabin vigil, in or out of uniform.

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The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has called on the army to rescind its order barring soldiers from taking part in protests and demonstrations.

“There is no place for such orders in a democratic nation that acts to uphold freedom of expression for all of its citizens,” wrote attorney Dan Yakir, chief legal counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and law professor Adam Shinar to the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ counsel and legislative department, Col. Tamir Muritz.

“Just as a prisoner does not give up his rights upon imprisonment, so does a soldier hold on to his rights upon entering his base, or donning a uniform,” continued the letter.

Yakir and Shinar argued that the order does not meet legal standards, nor “take into account the constitutional rights of IDF soldiers to freedom of expression, granted to them by a Basic Law, that can only be restricted under special circumstances.” Therefore, they claim, “the order is illegal and must be nullified.”

The IDF spokesman’s office said it would respond to ACRI’s letter directly, not through the media.

A standing IDF order forbids uniformed soldiers and officers from stating opinions publicly on politically partisan, diplomatic or military issues without permission from the chief of staff, personnel commander or army spokesman. person. In addition, soldiers are forbidden from participating in any “protest, precession, or march” organized by any non-military body. For example, soldiers are forbidden to participate in memorial vigils for Yitzhak Rabin, as such events are organized by private groups and are not official state ceremonies.

This order has been the target of much criticism from conscript, reservist and career soldiers. In a 2011 letter to Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the personnel directorate, 1st Lt. Gonen Shesh, now a reservist, complained that he lacked freedom of expression and the right to protest. An answer from Barbivai’s chief of staff stated, “There is no need to elaborate on the logic behind the prohibition on soldiers’ participation in protests in general, and specifically protests regarding controversial public issues.” The letter also noted that the prohibition applies to soldiers at all times, whether they are in uniform or not.

Enforcing the prohibition, however, is virtually impossible because of the difficulty in identifying soldiers out of uniform at protests and demonstrations.

File photo: the social protest movement of summer 2011.

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