The Israel Defense Forces has its own country, but it turns out that there’s a gap the size of an ocean between the IDF’s values and those of the country. The IDF is “the most moral army in the world,” but the same cannot be said of its country. There is no other way to explain the outraged response of Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, delivered via the IDF Spokesperson’s Office.
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Eisenkot did not claim that the country does not execute people, nor did he argue that the soldier-executioner does not represent the values of the country, of Judaism, of Zionism or of the Israeli education system. This soldier doesn’t represent “the IDF’s values,” the spokesperson said, as if trying to build a separation fence between the values of the state and those of the IDF.
This is a necessary distinction in a state whose values emit a stench of rot and which is trying to steal an IDF windbreaker to wrap itself in to hide the spreading gangrene. It’s a necessary separation for an army that fears the state is liable to drag it down its own filthy alleys.
But the chief of staff has thereby – and not to his own benefit – become the standard-bearer of values for all the decent, moderate, moral people. In an instant, Eisenkot has turned from a military man into a “movement,” and his army looks like a city square around which politicians circle dizzily as they vie with one another over their competing definitions of patriotism.
Suddenly the question is no longer who is for executions and who is against them, or who is defending the soldier-executioner and who opposes him, but who is for Eisenkot who is against him – not in his capacity as chief of staff, but as the architect of the state’s values. The arm wrestling is between those who demand that the country adopts “the IDF’s values” and those who demand that the IDF adopts the country’s values.
In a normal country (it’s customary to say “properly run,” but in truth, there is no such country), the state is the one that dictates the army’s mode of behavior and determines its values, not vice versa. But in the Israel of 2016, that, absurdly enough, would be a recipe for disaster. For if the army were to adopt the country’s values, the IDF would have to execute many more civilians that it has so far.
At first glance, it’s marvelous that the country has a chief of staff who not only guards its borders, but also its values, so that they don’t descend into the netherworld. A chief of staff who sets standards of morality and humanity for his army at a time when his country is making mincemeat of them. But herein lies the delusion.
When a military man in active service – and however accomplished and intelligent he is, he’s still the commander of the country’s most violent organization – constitutes the pillar of fire for liberalism, values and human rights, something fundamental here is out of order. When a military commander takes on the role of guru, it lays bare the failure of all those who are supposed to be lighting the way.
Israel is full to bursting with generals who have become politicians or businessmen, but not one of them conducted himself during his IDF service as a model of moral behavior – not even Eisenkot. The army that he and his predecessors led gave rise to the murderer in Hebron and “David the Nahlawi,” the soldier who earned massive online support after he was suspended for aiming his weapon at a Palestinian teenager. It has killed and still kills children, empties clips of ammunition into a girl armed with scissors and makes thousands of Palestinians homeless. And it does all this comfortably in the name of “the country’s values.”
Only when the wild weed that has grown up in its backyard threatens to strangle it does the chief of staff remember “the IDF’s values,” as if there were really any disconnect between those and “the country’s values.” That’s also how Turkish chiefs of staff, who were appointed to guard their country’s values, acted when they toppled governments that, in their view, didn’t comply with Ataturk’s doctrines – until Recep Tayyip Erdogan came along and put the army in its place. He declared that he will determine the values, and the army will obey.
But in Israel, there’s no danger of that happening. Israel already has an obedient army whose values aren’t really opposed to the distorted values of the state. The proper order of things is being upheld.