What if I Don't Feel Like It This Year?

If any further proof were needed of this year's ideological bankruptcy, it is provided by the shift in public discourse from criticizing refusal to serve to denouncing draft dodgers.

Until two years ago, refusal to obey military orders was what had the Israeli public up in arms: During the second intifada, members of the left refused to serve in the territories; during the disengagement, members of the right refused to evacuate settlers. Now, the outcry is over draft dodging. If any further proof were needed of this year's ideological bankruptcy, it is provided by the shift in public discourse from criticizing refusal to serve to denouncing draft dodgers. The former requires serious thought and deliberation; the latter boils down to self-righteous condemnation masquerading as patriotism.There is a yawning gap between refusing to obey orders and evading the draft. Those who refuse orders regard the state as an important value, and they want to participate in shaping it. Left or right, their refusal is a dialogue with the state in an attempt to influence, and it includes willingness to pay the price for their beliefs. Draft evasion is not the same thing. It is not dialogue, but a monologue of people who are not only shirking their duty, but refusing to take responsibility for it.

The refuser says: 'I can't do it under these circumstances.' The draft dodger says: 'I don't feel like it now.' Not a very honorable stance, to be sure, although every case is different.But the establishment's orchestrated response was even less honorable. Instead of holding an ideological debate with the new nay-sayers, such as those who refused to evacuate families from Hebron, it lashed out at the draft dodgers, some of whom are already pensioners in the draft evasion department.

There is a great deal of hypocrisy and cowardice in this response − and not only because military duty is being set up as a supreme value, as in totalitarian regimes, or because the state, which exempted these people from conscription, is now using other tools to condemn them. This organized assault has a whiff of manipulation about it mainly because it comes from those who have been accused of evading responsibility themselves. They have shirked the obligations and duties of their own jobs, in wartime and in peace. That is precisely what makes draft evasion so frightening to them now − in the same way that refusal scared the establishment before public norms deteriorated.

In the past, fear of soldiers disobeying orders was a hidden motive in the leadership's decisions on diplomatic and security matters. For the current administration, draft evasion is mainly a tool for distraction: Our problem is not a prime minister and a cabinet that led the country into a bungled war, brought grinding poverty on large sectors of the population and turned a blind eye to the safety of Israeli citizens; our real problems are rock star Ivri Lider and Adir Ohayon from 'A Star is Born,' who was bumped from the contest and forced to explain to a furious public that he did not serve in the army because he was overweight.

It is not the corrupt, conniving government that threatens Israel's inner fortitude, but the model Bar Refaeli, who is presented as the ambassador of a beautiful Israel one day and vilified as an ugly Israeli the next.

Consistency has never been the political establishment?s strong suit. Hypocrisy, however, is. After all, they know very well that while people who refuse orders are protesting their actions and opposing their policies, the draft dodgers were created in their image and have imbibed their values. Draft evasion, unlike refusing orders, is a kind of trick that these young people have learned from their elders sitting in the government. At the moment, however, it is convenient to rake them over the coals, creating an illusion of social cohesion that does not really exist.

But some of the government's plans have gone awry. In their mind's eye, Israel?s leaders saw themselves slipping into the empty spots on the stage vacated by draft dodgers at Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations. The legal advisor of the Prime Minister's Office ruined things by forbidding the government to ban performers who dodged military service. And on call-up day, they can say: 'What if I don't feel like it this year?' and live in wonderful symbiosis with the powers that be.