Gantz, You're No Longer in the Army. Enough With Military Thinking

Zehava Galon
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Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks with IDF officers during a military exercise in the north, in October.
Zehava Galon

Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz explained his entry into the government by saying he was “picking up the stretcher.” This week, Gantz responded to an advertisement urging him not to run in next month’s election that was published by 130 former senior defense officials by saying that he “is continuing to assault the target.”

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He also wrote that the people who ran that ad, “instead of helping me cover the target, are shooting me in the back.” Evidently, even he feels that “shooting within the armored personnel carrier” is too shopworn.

Gantz loves militaristic metaphors. He termed the defense establishment’s efforts against the coronavirus a “battle.” And this is how he complained about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to help him: “It’s like a grenade that I’ve jumped on, and then you come to me with complaints that I’m jumping on the grenade for you?”

Benny, I don’t know how to tell you this, but people who jump on grenades aren’t around afterward to complain about how they’re treated. Don’t credit yourself with courage and self-sacrifice that you don’t have. You’ve been a civilian for six years already. Free yourself. And if you free us of you, too, we’ll thank you.

But Gantz was a chief of staff, and this is what he knows. Our society is rife with militaristic metaphors. My party, Meretz, says it’s “fighting for you.” Contests between politicians are termed “battles,” and every primary is Ammunition Hill.

Language shapes reality. When we imprison ourself in military language, we imprison our brains, and that prevents us from talking about society and our civic situation. The military mode of thinking prevents us, for instance, from talking about the defense budget, which remains one of the biggest items in the state budget without any discussion of the fact that whole countries have abandoned the circle of hostilities.

In reality, this budget is consistently increased by an average of 10 billion shekels ($3.1 billion) a year. In a country bristling with army bases, the defense budget is immune to thought. Here, no questions are asked.

I’ve been there. I’ve sat on the Knesset Finance Committee when requests arrived with no explanations. And committee members, almost all of them men, saluted and approved a billion here, half a billion there, and then another billion. Just don’t let anyone say they aren’t picking up the stretcher.

Soon, the committee will be asked to approve 9.4 billion shekels for another squadron of F-35 fighters that nobody needs. Don’t worry, it will be approved.

When I was a member of the Finance Committee, I demanded explanations about these transfers and about the need for more and more budget increases every year. When I didn’t receive satisfactory explanations, I voted against.

This vote wasn’t self-evident; it was the direct result of the fact that I’m a feminist woman who isn’t willing to accept the authority of a male establishment that’s umbilically connected to the state budget, and that’s willing to hand out sops to “marginal” issues – like welfare, employment security, nutritional security and protection from violence in the streets and in the home – only after making it clear to the state who’s in charge and what the order of priorities should be.

Unfortunately, too few men have joined the women in politics who dare to shatter this groupthink, which is awash in the brotherhood of arms. This groupthink affects all of our lives and perpetuates a warped view of the meaning of security, even as the health, welfare and education budgets – our real security – continue to tread water.

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery / None but ourselves can free our minds,” Bob Marley sang. It’s high time for us to emancipate ourselves from the chains of military thinking. Only thus will we be able to heal our society.

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