Opinion |

The Return of Militarism

A wild militaristic orgy is now at its height, as it was back then, following the 1967 Six-Day War

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi salutes at his inaugural ceremony as chief of staff, Tel Aviv, January 15, 2019.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi salutes at his inaugural ceremony as chief of staff, Tel Aviv, January 15, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Idol worship is here once again: Militarism has returned. Not that it ever left us, but following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, there were a few good years of modesty, humility, even shame. And now it’s back, big time.

A poster of the new chief of staff arrived Wednesday, courtesy of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth and the World Jewish Congress – what a moving combination. What exactly are we to do with this nonsense? Hang it in the living room or on the balcony? And Channel 10 News excitedly presented the “chief of staff cake,” a grotesquerie made in the shape of his shirt.

The induction of a new chief of staff has become a religious rite, a moment of national transcendence, with live broadcasts and banner headlines – “The commander” and “Good luck, bro” – spread across entire pages. A wild militaristic orgy is now at its height, as it was back then, following the 1967 Six-Day War.

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Those were the best of times. Outside Eli Ronen’s steakhouse, in the Tel Aviv square then called Kings of Israel (which today is Rabin Square), the generals’ staff cars parked on the sidewalks. Steak in pita was sold at a discount to soldiers and was free for generals; radiant girls feted them with cigars and whiskey.

They were the stars at every party. Garages and restaurants were bedecked with their pictures. A journalist was assigned to every general. Every child knew their names. Even the logistics department head was a public figure. The officers of the General Staff were the generals of our childhood, the generals of our lives.

Back then, this national lust was born of a victory which they said was heroic. The orgy we’re experiencing now was born of a vacuum. But the result will be the same: It will end in a hangover. The generals of those days sprang from the battles of the 1948 War of Independence. Today’s generals sprang from nighttime arrests in the marketplaces of Palestinian cities.

An army whose main activities are oppressing, abusing and brutally controlling innocent civilians, fighting barefoot boys, using sniper fire on demonstrators and defending against scissors enjoys a halo of heroism as if it were rich in combat experience. An army whose pride and joy consists of sealing tunnels and demolishing houses, chasing stone-throwers and controlling checkpoints – anything but heroic acts – has been granted a new halo. An army where not a day goes by – lo, an hour – in which soldiers don’t commit crimes has become our heart’s desire.

One could argue that there’s no choice, that it’s impossible for an army of occupation to be humane. But to turn this organization into an exemplar, a source of national leaders? Only complete emptiness can explain this terrifying return to Sparta.

With a troop of cheerleaders in the guise of an army of military reporters – people who pretty up IDF officers in embarrassing fashion, most of whom lack even the most basic idea about journalism – this false myth has been revived. Have you ever heard of an IDF general who isn’t brilliant, daring, thorough and determined? Is any other field covered with such endless flattery?

The new chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, a philosopher and a vegan, inventor of a system for moving through urban areas by breaking through walls – one of the most satanic the IDF has ever come up with – is already a national hero, second only to one of his predecessors, Benny Gantz. In his inaugural speech, he promised a “lethal army.” In other words, an army of murderers. There’s no other way to interpret this. And the nation rejoices. A new star has entered the empty firmament of our lives – Kochavi, the next Gantz.

The political system is also hysterical, gripped by lust for the generals. There isn’t a party that isn’t seeking one for itself. Israel no longer has any heroes without a uniform. Even after most proved to be failures in politics, they are now the next big thing. Israel learns nothing and forgets nothing.

It’s so hungry for a hero that it’s willing to believe he will emerge from its army, a rigid, obedient, narrow-minded, bureaucratic organization that engages mainly in policing and exercising violent control over civilians. Only a man who, in his youth, shot a child fleeing for his life, or invaded the home of a terrified family in the dead of night, can save it. That’s how deep its despair is.

Gantz, who replaced Gabi Ashkenazi; Moshe Ya’alon, who replaced Shaul Mofaz; Gadi Eisenkot and also Kochavi – they’re our only hope. Take a good look at that hope, and you’ll see who we are.

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