Burning an IDF Colonel at the Stake

The promotion track of a daring and heroic officer, who invoked God when issuing an order to troops entering Gaza, has been unjustly blocked.

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Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Winter (C), IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) and GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman (L) confer during Operation Protective Edge, August 2, 2014.
Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Winter (C), IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) and GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman (L) confer during Operation Protective Edge, August 2, 2014.Credit: Yehuda Gross / IDF Spokesperson

The order issued by Col. Ofer Winter before embarking on battle in Operation Protective Edge (including the phrase “to destroy the enemy who blasphemes against the God of Israel”) – a few words that were foreign to the culture, understanding and mentality of his critics (some of whom demanded that he be dismissed even at the height of the fighting) – ignited a blaze that has not yet abated.

The more time that passes, the more obvious it is that the man himself has been marked as a target, even more than the content of the order he issued. The moral heft he and those like him bring to their military service and their command are what make him “dangerous,” and fuel those who are planning the campaign for his dismissal. The religious high schools, such as the pre-military academy in Eli, where the pupils absorb the values of Judaism, Zionism, love for the Jewish people and love for the land, fill them with anger and envy.

There is another element, an explosive one that arouses strong emotions: Winter and those like him managed to break away from the "Lebanon complexes" that loomed over the Israel Defense Forces like a curse, weakening the chief of staff – and the political echelon as well – in all the recent wars. People like Winter are bringing back the army’s true spirit – one of daring, of striving for engagement and sticking to the task, in the style of the retaliatory attacks of the 1950s, which were led by exemplary figures such as Aharon Davidi, Meir Har-Zion, Rafael Eitan and many, many others (none of whom was religiously observant).

It is also because of this, because of the return to the ethos of daring and heroism, that Winter is being stood up in front of the firing squads of the media and the Israel Democracy Institute.

The latter organized a kind of auto-da-fe for him. In a roundtable discussion held last month – and entitled “The fighting ethos of the IDF: Has it changed?” – many people of the same political mold (typical of the IDI’s events) met to burn Winter and his platform at the stake. Dr. Arye Carmon, the IDI’s founding president, said that “God’s presence had no place in the democratic public sphere.”

For her part, Prof. Tamar Hermann, a senior fellow of the institute, told of a study she is engaged in that proves that roughly 80 percent of Israel's Jewish population has declared that, in one manner or another, they believe in God. Many of the respondents defined themselves as “religious Zionists” even though only some of them belong to religious communities or vote for religious parties.

This steadily growing “conscious" camp, as Hermann defines it, aspires to belong to the national religious camp because it sees it as one based on values – as a camp that is less critical of the basic issues related to the Jewish and democratic state, and one that identifies, individually and collectively, with the national ethos. It is Jewish first and only then Israeli (Shelly Yacimovich, the former chairwoman of Labor, declared: “I feel envious of the national-religious camp”).

If 80 percent of the country's Jews believe in God, cried Dr. Simcha Goldin (the father of the late Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed during Operation Protective Edge and whose body was kidnapped) – why does the IDI demand that God be taken out of the army? Is that a democratic act? Where is the tolerance of the majority? One should show consideration to a minority, but not nullify oneself before it. Most of the nation wants a Jewish and Zionist state, not a multicultural state without foundations or roots. The minority that pretends to be tolerant, liberal and democratic has a mentality that is actually totalitarian.

Within the national-religious camp is an enormous variety of beliefs and opinions. Yet when it comes to Winter, almost the entire camp, split as it is, stands as one to demand that his honor be restored and the insult to his reputation answered for.

“I continue to claim absolutely that Ofer Winter is a man molded in the basic materials of the Jewish faith,” asserted Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, “and by that right, his loyalty to the fundamental values of democracy are beyond any doubt."

"I am a democrat,” Lau continued, describing the seed of the roots of religious Zionism, “because I am religious, not despite my being religious. My God is the fundamental element of human liberty and dignity. My Torah is the compass that directs me toward the meticulous protection of the rights of human beings, whoever they may be.

"If you chose to define this institute as the IDI without God’s Name, that is your right,” Lau said, addressing Dr. Carmon. “But in that case, it would be better for you not to decorate it with a few skullcaps, which are nothing but a fig leaf” (Lau’s own skullcap being one of them).

It appears that Lau’s statements fell on inattentive ears. Although people described Col. Winter as a “wonderful combat soldier” and “a superior commanding officer,” he will be sent to the army’s Command and Staff College for a cooling-off period, and will not be promoted to division commander at this stage. IDF officials explain this by saying that the army expects officers who are in line for promotion to the rank of brigadier general to study at the college. But even if there was no malice involved in sending him there, there was certainly an abundance of stupidity and insensitivity.

In any event, those leading the campaign against Winter will see this, with good reason, as both a victory on the level of principle – the General Staff is sending a signal to religious personnel that there really is no place for God in the army – and on the personal level.

The promotion track of an officer with "dangerous" views and a rich record of performance on the battlefield has been blocked. The large camp of his supporters – but mostly the thousands of troops under his command – will see it as a kind of demotion: The left and the media apply pressure, the General Staff gets upset and the best and brightest are pushed aside. This is excellence, and this is its reward.

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