Opinion

Needed: A 'Secularism Officer' for Israel's Army

The IDF's consideration of 'beliefs, values and way of life' extends only to their religious variant, which means the ultra-Orthodox nationalist variant, and none other.

Religious Israel Defense Force soldiers praying, 2007.
Alex Levac

Ostensibly, Israel and its army, whose laws we’ll be discussing today, give people the freedom to practice their religion and faith, and the army tries to take into consideration, as it says, “the beliefs, values and religious way of life” of its soldiers. So much so that an order has recently been issued permitting male soldiers not to ride on the same bus as female soldiers, perish the thought, if that insults their sensibilities.

But the very wording of the order, and certainly the way it is being applied, makes completely clear that this consideration by the army of “beliefs, values and way of life” extends only to the religious variant of them, which means the ultra-Orthodox nationalist variant, and none other.

In other words, secular soldiers – whose beliefs and values are violated by the words of the Passover Haggadah, “Pour out your wrath upon the gentiles,” and those of the Hanukkah song Ma’oz Tzur, “When I prepare a massacre for the barking enemy” (echoing “I will eat my oppressor’s flesh” from the controversial Mahmoud Darwish poem) – have no recourse, according to the army’s orders, but to take part in these ceremonies. If they refuse, they will be penalized.

But secularism is also a belief, just like religion. It’s not – as religious people say, and too many secular people fall into the trap of agreeing with them – that religion is belief and secularism is lack of belief. Not at all. Secularism is a belief that our fates are in the hands of human beings, of humanity, not in those of a traditional, external, superhuman entity that runs our lives.

Thus secular people believe that all the “commandments” of that non-existent entity – such as kissing doorposts, or the ground, or crosses, or other such practices – are foolishness. They believe that those who lead their lives according to such beliefs, and certainly those who try to lead the lives of others according to them, strike a mortal blow against humanity and endanger its future and its existence.

Instead, secular people believe with perfect faith in the equality of humans and their right to liberty and happiness and all kinds of other things, because secularism, like other beliefs, has lots of shades and streams.

And yes, the feelings of secular people can be hurt too. For example, when they see someone refuse to sit on the bus next to black people, Jews, women or others. Such inhuman behavior is like a dagger in the heart of a secular person, believing as she does that all human beings are equal. And do secular people not have eyes, hands, desires, feelings? Are they not injured by the same weapons, prone to the same diseases, healed by the same means? Are we not hot in the summer and cold in the winter like religious people? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?

So let the army be so good as to allow the secular draftees, even if there be only 300 such people a year, to sign a “declaration of secularism,” in which the draftee states that he or she is strictly secular, and does not perform any commandments of any religion, except of his or her own free will.

And to avoid a situation by which such declared secularists are forced against their will to dress up on Purim as Queen Esther, or in the month before Rosh Hashanah forced to tour synagogues to see slichot prayers, every unit will appoint a “secularism officer,” just like there are “religion officers,” whom secular soldiers can approach in cases of infringement of their rights, beliefs and feelings.

And now you can go about fulfilling the commandments, fasting en masse and waving your palm fronds, and the land will be filled with rejoicing, liberty and gladness.