Right-wing MK's Nephew Refusing to Serve in IDF

Ro'i Hendel, a senior at the Science and Arts High School in Jerusalem, is refusing to be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces because he is a pacifist.

He has already been summoned by the draft board, and is currently working on a letter explaining his pacifist worldview, in the hope that the army's Conscientious Objection Committee will exempt him from service. In this, he is just one of a growing number of high school seniors who are refusing to be drafted, either for political reasons or because they are pacifists.

What makes Hendel unique in "refusenik" circles is his background: He grew up in a religious Zionist home, and he is the nephew of MK Zvi Hendel of the right-wing National Union Party.

Hendel said his parents are ideologically opposed to his refusal to serve and have tried to persuade him to change his mind. "For my parents, being drafted is a value [in and of itself]," he said. "However, the primary value in our family is that everyone must use his own judgment - and therefore, they are supporting me personally. The result is that the situation in our house is very unclear and very problematic."

Hendel said he has no idea what his politician uncle thinks of his decision, nor does he care. Nevertheless, he is aware that the minute he goes public with his refusal, people "will make a big deal about my religious background and my family connections."

He expects the army to recognize him as a pacifist and allow him to do alternative national service, but if not, he said, he is willing to pay the price of going to jail.

Hendel considers his decision a natural outgrowth of his worldview. Four years ago, for instance, he joined a group called "Anonymous," which defends animal rights, and became a vegetarian.

However, he made the final decision to refuse to be drafted only about six months ago. Until then, he was still considering joining the army and asking to serve in a framework that does not involve violence. "I saw how important it was to my parents, and out of respect for them, I wanted to find a compromise solution," he explained. "But the more I thought about it, the more I understood that I am not able to join the IDF."

One of the decisive moments in this process was when his eldest brother, who did his compulsory service in the Nahal paratroops, refused to do his last stint of reserve duty in the territories, and consequently did time in a military prison.

Unlike many other of his peers, he does not define his refusal as political. Nevertheless, he said, there is no question the army's violent activities in the territories affected his decision.

"I know that some of the `political' refuseniks who are sitting in jail are really pacifists, but it was important for them to emphasize the political aspect," he said. "For me, that isn't the main issue. I do not try to persuade others [to refuse to serve]; I merely tell them to use their own judgment. The fact that I was raised in a religious home is actually what educated me to the value of independent thought. The problem is not religion, but the use that is made of it in the service of ideology."