Power Play / The IDF Is Waiting for Marina

If the chief of staff, who happens to be famous for his silences, assailed draft evaders twice in the course of a month, apparently the problem is really serious. Even the state's greatest enemies have not merited such frequent public reprimands.

'Our mission is to make these shirkers blush with shame and restore serving soldiers' pride' (Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, at an Army Radio award ceremony, July 31, 2007)

'Anyone who thinks this generation is inferior to the ones before it is welcome to take a look around this room ... You and your heroism will tell the draft dodgers: 'Lower your eyes!'' (Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, at a ceremony awarding medals and citations for the Second Lebanon War, September 2, 2007)

If the chief of staff, who happens to be famous for his silences, assailed draft evaders twice in the course of a month, apparently the problem is really serious. Even the state's greatest enemies have not merited such frequent public reprimands. It is not clear how Ashkenazi's national educational lessons will affect the percentage of draftees in the future, but he can already chalk up one tiny achievement: Teddy Productions, which produces 'A Star is Born' (the Israeli version of 'American Idol'), became somewhat panicky.

On the evening of the final, the producers approached the Israel Defense Forces with the following proposal: Marina Maximilian Blumin, one of the three finalists, would be willing to enlist in the army as long as the service 'suits her musical talent.' According to media reports, the producers planned to have Blumin announce the dramatic agreement with the IDF in a live broadcast, in the midst of the final. The idea was apparently to neutralize the hostility that the audience had developed toward the draft-dodging star, upgrade the reputation of a production that had become embroiled with too many draft-dodging candidates in one season, and at the same time achieve a mass patriotic catharsis that would be worth a few more points in the ratings.

To their great disappointment, the IDF rejected the tempting offer. 'An official request was in fact received from the producers of 'A Star is Born 5' and public relations agencies,' said the IDF Spokesman's Office, 'but a request of this type must be made by Marina herself. Therefore, they were told that the IDF does not accept requests from producers and public relations agencies. To date, no official request has been received from Marina on this matter.'

You read this story and say to yourself: Good for the IDF. Not only has it succeeded in causing Teddy Productions to blush with shame, it also exposed the company's bluff. Caught them in the act. Had Blumin really wanted to enlist, she would have approached the army herself. The fact that she did not do so indicates that the production company's initiative was not sincere; it was merely a phony public relations ploy. The message is: The IDF wants Marina, not her PR people. It does not engage in PR.But then you recall how the draft-dodging panic began and the IDF's own role in this campaign. You recall, for example, that it all began with some innocent and predictable statistical data that was sent to the media: The percentage that enlisted in this year's August draft was only 75 percent of those obligated to enlist. Nobody thought to make an issue of it except for the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. These are the dog days of summer, and anything can make the front page. And thus, because material was sparse, a headline was born: 'One out of every four men does not enlist.'

From that moment, the uproar began. The defense minister was the first to catch the wave, declaring that the IDF has become the army of 'half the people' instead of the army of the people (July 30, 2007). The chief of staff joined in a day later ('to restore shame to the draft dodgers' cheeks'). The IDF leadership hastened to fall into line and the campaign was underway. All the accusing fingers were pointed at the 'heroes of the youth culture,' artists and entertainers, who do not enlist in the army and provide legitimacy for draft evasion.

Not many people bothered to examine the segmentation of those who do not enlist: Eleven percent are ultra-Orthodox men for whom 'Torah is their profession,' four percent are the children of Israelis who are living abroad, four percent are released because of criminal records or personal profiles that do not meet the draft threshold, about four percent are released for psychological reasons and about two percent for medical reasons. In all, about 25 percent. The increase in the percentage of non-enlisters (slightly over one percent) is mainly the result of the increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox, who are eligible for release by law. In other words, most of it is a tempest in a teapot. And still, everyone, starting with the IDF, attacked the famous draft dodgers. Why them of all people?

Because they are famous, and as such, will be very useful in a PR campaign against draft evasion. Why now of all times? It is not clear. Maybe because the IDF has to rehabilitate its image and it central importance in Israeli society.

That is exactly how the Israel Police behaves when it is in trouble. Suddenly, the public is exposed to ostentatious operations to eradicate the plague of drugs. The easiest and fastest way is to attack the next-in-line famous person. They catch some small pusher and extract names of famous customers from him. Then comes the leak and the press does all the rest of the work. After all, it is also in need of its own famous people. The celebrity system works in all directions.

This very principle is what gave rise to the Ivri Lider affair. The same IDF that rejected the request to draft Marina Maximilian Blumin because it was only a PR ploy is carrying out a PR ploy of its own: It canceled Lider's performance in front of thousands of soldiers solely because he did not agree to be drafted into the reserves and to sign a love letter to the army. The IDF does not need Lider in the reserves; the singer performs in front of soldiers in any case. But the IDF needs the public confrontation and, mainly, the applause. That is part of the false crisis that it initiated, another step in the artificial campaign that reached its peak at Sunday's medal-awarding ceremony.

'You and your heroism will tell the draft dodgers: Lower your eyes!' said the chief of staff, paraphrasing the famous speech by General Shmuel Gorodish after the Six-Day War ('My Glorious Brothers;), in which the following sentence appeared: We looked death straight in the face and it lowered its eyes.' One could say that here, Ashkenazi (or whoever wrote his speech) went a step too far. For Gorodish, death - in other words, the enemy - lowered its eyes. For Ashkenazi, the one who is supposed to lower her eyes is only Marina Maximilian Blumin, whom the IDF itself chose not to recruit into its ranks. Only now, when she is famous, is it suddenly awaiting a phone call from her.