Opinion |

Do Israeli Soldiers Deserve Stipends More Than Others?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Discharged Israeli soldiers protesting in front of the Knesset.
Discharged Israeli soldiers protesting in front of the Knesset.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

A sigh of relief flooded the country in the middle of the night: The “From Uniform to Studies” bill passed in the Knesset. It’s hard to imagine what a national disaster would have ensued had Israeli combat soldiers, those whose are world renowned, failed to receive the stipends, and what a tremendous national achievement was registered.

The Knesset once again did a wonderful job of expressing everyone’s covert wishes, even at a discount, two for the price of one: an expression of Jewish supremacy, along with profound militarism, two of society’s most malignant diseases in a single law, in the only democracy in the Middle East. The government of change, the Zionist left, the center and the right once again proved: There’s no trace of the left in Israel, except for the Arab left. Nor are there any differences of opinion between the right and the imaginary left, except for party and individual differences. And everything passed with exemplary agreement, as though it were self-evident.

It’s self-evident that soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, an army based on moral rot, deserve everything. It’s self-evident that nobody thought things could be different. Why, in fact, only “from uniform to studies?” Why not also “from a wheelchair to studies,” stipends for the disabled? Isn’t that more just? Are the soldiers really the neediest? And “from poverty-stricken neighborhoods to studies,” stipends for the poor? And “from the absorption centers to studies,” stipends for new immigrants? And even, take heed: “from the refugee camps to studies,” a benevolent gesture to the country’s greatest victims? Don’t make us laugh. In Israel, where steakhouses offer a 20 percent discount to soldiers in uniform, not to the poor and not to the disabled, there’s nothing to discuss.

Whom exactly are we thanking, and for what, with these stipends? We thank the “fighters,” not all the soldiers. And who are the fighters, and what do they do? Most serve as soldiers in an occupation army, as policemen and sometimes as stormtroopers, as well. Their main operational activity is to subjugate another people. They invade the bedrooms of strangers at night, and during the day they stand at checkpoints in order to abuse and humiliate in the name of security. That is the core of their operational activity, and its main purpose is to maintain the occupation and the settlements.

These fighters routinely perpetrate war crimes. It’s not always their fault. Their posting itself precludes any other possibility. But should they be prioritized over any other part of society? Do only they bring the most exalted contribution to society and the state? Is it they, of all people, whom society wants to honor? To thank?

When will we finally grow out of the cliche that they are protecting us? Often, they are actually endangering us with their brutal and sometimes even barbaric activities, which are pushing tens of thousands of young Palestinians into violent resistance. An army – every army, and certainly the IDF – is a necessary evil. Like health services. The work is vital, and someone has to do it. And like the health services, a considerable percentage is dirty work.

And what does the military have to do with academic studies? It would be wonderful if academic studies in Israel were to be offered to everyone free of charge, as in well-run countries. But an order of priorities in which the occupation soldiers come first is distorted. The situation in which a privileged percentage of uniform-wearers, as well as nonuniformed members of the Shin Bet security services, have special study programs at the universities also testifies to a sick order of priorities, which has spread to the ivory tower. In that case, let’s take another step forward and grant an academic degree o every soldier without studies. “From uniform to degrees” would pass in the Knesset with sweeping approval. In that way, Israel could really thank its soldiers.

    Everyone wanted this law. Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli of Labor embraced the soldiers with the same fake enthusiasm as Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, who is exactly like MK Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism; Meretz also gave its support, of course, only in order to remind us that the connection between it and the left no longer exists. We are all Jews and we are all soldiers.

    But there are no free lunches. If the soldiers really are the greatest, the most appreciated and the most highly regarded segment of Israeli society, that means that all of society supports, worships and admires what they do. And that’s far worse.

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