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Those Brave Israeli Army Fighters

Nehemia Shtrasler
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Religious Zionism candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Religious Zionism candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nehemia Shtrasler

This week, Yair Golan, No. 3 on the Meretz roster for the Knesset, asked the media to stop inviting him to face off against Itamar Ben-Gvir, No. 3 on the Religious Zionism list. Golan said he was unwilling to sit in the same studio with someone who was convicted of seven criminal offenses, including membership in a terror organization and racist incitement. He also cited Ben-Gvir’s threat against Yitzhak Rabin shortly before he was assassinated, when he held up the emblem that was pulled off Rabin’s car and said, “We got to the car, we can get to Rabin too.” The assassin got to him not long afterward.

Golan said: “I won’t debate Ben-Gvir. I won’t give him the honor he doesn’t deserve.” And Golan is right. He doesn’t need to participate in the networks’ disgusting ratings race, which has turned the disciple of Meir Kahane and admirer of Baruch Goldstein, who slaughtered 29 Muslim worshippers in cold blood, into a mega-celebrity.

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Ben-Gvir retorted that Golan is a “keyboard hero” who’s afraid to confront him, adding, “Israelis should be grateful to God that you are in Meretz and not the IDF.” At this point, I realized that Ben-Gvir must be a real hero and not a keyboard one. He must have served in the Israel Defense Forces in a significant combat role, climbed the ranks and fought bravely in Israel’s wars, so he must surely know who’s a coward.

Golan the coward enlisted in the paratroops, fought in the First Lebanon War and then commanded countless operations in Lebanon. He was wounded in a clash with Hezbollah during one of them, but continued commanding the battle despite his injury. What a coward. He later commanded the IDF’s 91st Division and the Judea and Samaria Division, and so essentially defended the brave Ben-Gvir.

In 2008, he was promoted to the rank of major general, became head of the Northern Command, and was appointed deputy IDF chief of staff.

And where did Ben-Gvir serve? He didn’t serve at all. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but this super-extremist never spent a single minute in the IDF. He says the army didn’t want to draft him because of his activity in Kahane’s Kach party. Interesting. I know young people who wanted to serve and were turned away by the IDF, but fought the decisions as hard as they could, filed appeals, even went to court over it. I also know people who were in Gush Emunim in the 1970s but stayed away from the raucous demonstrations against the government because they knew the army would then refuse to draft them.

In other words, Ben-Gvir could have ceased his extremist activity in Kach when he was 17 and the army would have drafted him at age 18. But he apparently felt more comfortable letting Yair Golan take the personal risk to defend him, and even be wounded, while he spent that time as a civilian. So who’s the coward here?

Religious Zionism Chairman Bezalel Smotrich is also a great hero. He’s in favor of sticking it to the Arabs and annexing all of the Palestinian Territories. Whenever a soldier fails to shoot enough at a Palestinian protester, he gets very indignant and demands an investigation. This is someone so eager for battle that at 18, rather than enlist in the army with all his friends from the religious Zionist movement, he chose to “enlist” in a yeshiva, where he spent 10 years and also found the time to study law, do a legal internship and pass the bar. All while his good friends (and Yair Golan) were putting their lives on the line to protect him. Only then, at the age of 28, with three children, was he drafted for shortened military service in a noncombat position in the center of the country, far from the front lines.

A month after his enlistment, he outwitted the army once more when he registered as a candidate for the Knesset as part of the National Union list and was released from service for three months. But since he failed to get elected, he had to return to the army to complete his shortened service of just 16 months.

It mystifies me how right-wingers for whom service in the IDF is a central value could vote for a party with leaders like these.

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