If we don’t stand up for Israel, who will?….asks Gabsy Debinski

August 30, 2013 by Gabsy Debinski
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Over the past few months, tempers have flared and debates have gotten feisty between various Zionist organizations within our own community.

Gabsy Debinski

Gabsy Debinski

In the short time since I have taken this post, accusations of the Zionist Federation excluding those critical of Israel from ‘the Zionist tent’ have abounded. Both in a private capacity, and in public forums, individuals representing various organizations have criticised the ZFA for refusing to acknowledge Israel’s faults.

I too received some heated responses following my advocacy update a few weeks ago, which unpacked the core issues of the peace process, specifically the issue of settlements.

These queries were to the tune of why I was justifying Israel’s continued occupation in the settlements, and in a separate letter; ‘Why do you feel the need to stand up for Israel when its actions are obviously wrong?’

It goes without saying that I disagree with this person’s summation. However, these series of exchanges really got me thinking about the way we come to Israel’s defence and how we should go about it in the twenty-first century.

Generally speaking, Gen-Y is different. Collectively, we are liberalist, human-rights focused, environmentally friendly and largely anti-war. In this regard traditional forms of ‘Israel advocacy’ will no longer cut it. Responding to criticism of Israel by focusing discussions on Israel’s extraordinary record of innovation (whilst all true), will fail to convince Israel’s rising critics.

By the same token, an all-out denial of Israel’s faults is also seen as lacking credibility and unrealistic. Indeed, the best we can do is to provide the broader context that is so often lacking from the media’s coverage of Israel.

The annual anti-Israel campaign (that seems to resurface every year as the Jewish festival season comes upon us) was again launched this week in full force.

The Australian newspaper published a damning article titled ‘Soldiers break silence on Israeli tactics,’ focused on the IDF’s human rights violations. It based its findings on testimonies from the Israeli based organization Breaking the Silence, made up of ex-military personnel who operate under the banner ‘Israeli soldiers talking about the occupied territories.’

The article says; “Questions are being raised about the culture of the Israeli Defence Force within former military circles. Breaking the Silence, an organisation with more than 800 Israeli veteran combat soldiers and officers who served in the IDF since 2000, has been attacked for focusing on Israel’s human rights record.”

It includes testimonies from ex-soldiers, such as Adam Ragson, who said that it “opened my eyes to the immoral and ugly face of martial law in the West Bank”.

He continued; “Israel is committing serious human rights violations that do not embody the fundamental Jewish values I studied in my Jewish upbringing.”

First, the obvious question is that of timing. It’s pitiful that critics are focusing their attention on Israel’s human rights record at a time when its neighbours in Syria and Egypt are systematically wiping out their own people.

But the key omission here is context.

The claim that Israeli soldiers are involved in the abuse of Palestinians is hard to refute because these aren’t critics accusing Israel of cruelty; they are Israeli soldiers freely conceding abuse.

However, like thousands of armies around the world, Israel has strict procedures and processes in place to deal with those who breach its strict code of ethics.

In 1992, the IDF drafted a Code of Conduct that combines international law, Israeli law, Jewish heritage and the IDF’s own traditional ethical code—the IDF Spirit. A fundamental pillar of this code is Human Dignity.

It states; “The IDF and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status or position.”

University philosophy professor Asa Kasher co-authored the first IDF Code of Ethics and continues to work on the moral doctrines that shape the parameters of the army’s actions. In 2011 he was interviewed about this in an opinion piece for the Jerusalem Post.

“A state is obligated to ensure effective protection of its citizens’ lives. In fact, it’s more than just life. It is an obligation to ensure the citizens’ well-being and their capacity to go about their lives. A citizen of a state must be able to live normally. To send the kids to school in the morning. To go shopping. To go to work. To go out in the evening. A routine way of life. Nothing extraordinary. The state is obliged to protect that,” he says.

“At the same time, the moral foundation of a democratic state is respect for human dignity. Human dignity must be respected in all circumstances. And to respect human dignity in all circumstances means, among other things, to be sensitive to human life in all circumstances. Not just the lives of the citizens of your state. Everybody.”

“This applies even in our interactions with terrorists. I am respecting the terrorist’s dignity when I ask myself, “Do I have to kill him or can I stop him without killing him?”

Such omissions of fact and context, paints a picture of an institutionalised policy of brutality within the IDF which is entirely antithetical to the ‘Israeli spirit.’

This article (and we can expect there will be more where this came from with the UN’s most anti-Israel  representative, Richard Falk, shortly headed for our shores), ironically coincides with the release of the Israeli documentary ‘The Gatekeepers’ – a film about the ethics of the Shin Bet, Israel’s leading security organization.

The TV series, turned film, shows interviews with the six former heads of the Shin Bet. All six interviewees insist that Israel could have done more to extricate itself from this situation by negotiating peace with the Palestinians and ending the “occupation” in the West Bank. They say unanimously and repeatedly that successive political leaders did not want a two-state solution. This leaves an uncomfortable impression of Israel’s intransigence, at a critical diplomatic time.

What is most difficult to reconcile is that these are not hostile opponents of Israel. They are the very heart of the Jewish state’s security operation that would do anything to protect Israel and its citizens. They know what is happening behind the scenes and they have many ideas on how it should be solved.

On the other hand, however, director Dror Moreh uses his interviews with the six former heads of the Shin Bet, to highlight that moral and ethical issues are continuously debated in Israel by the people who count. It shows that the men behind Israel’s security operations have been burdened by human suffering on all levels.

Raising complex questions of mass targeting, interrogation and responses to terrorism, the interviews show that the security apparatus has been run by successive leaders of conscience and morality. They were genuinely conflicted about how to protect Israelis without harming Palestinians.

 

That a self-analytical film, critical of Israeli leadership and its intelligence, is screened on Israeli television, and as part of the Israeli Film Festival, is testament to the morality and humanity of Israel’s military and security apparatus. In this regard, they certainly can’t be perceived as being mere mouthpieces of the government.

 

For all of its nuances, one thing is clear; Israel strives to be as militarily moral as possible. At the Zionist Federation that is something we take great pride in, and we never seek to condone those who act to the contrary.

At the same time, however, there are enough destructive forces working against Israel, knit picking her every action and distorting truth. This has been the strategy of both the EU and the UN in recent times. Increasingly it seems that if we, as Jews and Zionists, jump on this ‘critical’ band-wagon the chance of getting our ‘Gen-Y’ to truly love Israel, is slimmer and slimmer. If we don’t come out in Israel’s defence, sadly, no one else will.

And importantly…

Most of you would have been keeping a close eye on developments in Syria. Surely as things progress we will keep you informed. But as our brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends ready themselves with gas masks should the worst materialize, let us send our love, prayers and wishes.

Comments

6 Responses to “If we don’t stand up for Israel, who will?….asks Gabsy Debinski”
  1. Gabsy says:

    David, thank-you for pointing out this error. However, this wrong attribution does nothing to change the nature of my argument at all. My point is on how to respond to these sorts of claims- regardless of the status of the people who make them.

    • David says:

      Gabsy

      I am a little confused by your reply.

      You state in your article:

      “The claim that Israeli soldiers are involved in the abuse of Palestinians is hard to refute because these aren’t critics accusing Israel of cruelty; they are Israeli soldiers freely conceding abuse.”

      To back up your sweeping statement – you have relied on the comments by Ragson as coming from an ex-soldier when clearly he is not.

      Had he been an ex-soldier one could ask – what did he do about it and what was the result?

      Now that we have agreed on that – you will need to provide confirmation to substantiate your remarks.

      Could you therefore please advise

      1. How many soldiers have freely conceded abuse?

      2. What did those soldiers do about bringing their complaints to their superiors?

      3. What action was taken on such complaints and how many of those accused of abuse were found guilty of such abuse?

      Perhaps with this information we can determine whether such abuse is institutionalised or confined to a few who should be exposed and tried – and so enable us to effectively counter the claim that you apparently find hard to refute.

  2. Yigal says:

    Is the relevant question the rights or wrongs of Breaking the Silence, Peace Now, or even Women in Green? Whether we agree or disagree with the general settlement policy of the Israeli Government (I, personally disagree) that is not the questions or issue here.

    The ONLY issue that is relevant to ALL of us, left or right, religous or secular, has become only too clear these past few days.

    Signs held up outside of Downing Street telling Prime Minister Cameron, “Hands off Syria, this is not our war….” say it all.

    80 years after the establishment of the Third Reich, and we have recieved confirmation that it could happen again.

    So friends, no matter whatever your views are, let us stand together, united in ensuring OUR future, the future of the Jewish People; because today we all should understand that we can only count on ourselves. Sad, but fact!

    Shana Tova to one and all

    Yigal Sela

    • Gil Solomon says:

      Yigal,

      If, due to a targeted assassination Assad goes, then the likes of who replaces him is guaranteed to be abundantly worse with those murderous Jihadist fanatics in control of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile. How would Israelis feel then and so too we Jews in the diaspora?

      The Syrian tragedy represents the usual Arab barbarity towards each other. The holocaust was in fact the systematic attempt to eradicate Jews, of whatever nationality from the face of the earth.

      I am sick and tired of every barbarian atrocity committed by one nation over another or on parts of its own citizenry bringing out the usual clamour of comparisons with the holocaust, especially by Jews, who should know better. Jews of all people should never refer to the holocaust so loosely. What happenned under the Third Reich was a uniquely Jewish catastrophe and to me it is demeaning to the memory of the 6 million who perished in the ovens and ditches throughout Nazi occupied Europe to equate their deaths with the current Syrian or any other tragedy, as tragic as these may be.

      The world should just keep out.
      And Israel should definitely keep out unless there is some compelling reason in its security interests to intervene.

    • David says:

      Yigal

      Great comment.

  3. David says:

    Gabsy

    When advocating Israel’s case – one needs to be scrupulously accurate in presenting the facts.

    You have failed to do so in claiming that Adam Ragson was an ex-soldier when in fact he was an American tourist taken on a tour of Hebron by Breaking the Silence – as this excerpt from the Australian article makes clear:

    “On a BTS tour to Hebron city, the only one with a Jewish settlement in its midst, were 10 young adult American Jews.

    A walk through the Israeli-controlled sector of Hebron, holy to Muslims and Jews, reveals a ghost town. Soldiers patrol streets protecting settlers in otherwise empty areas.

    Hebron was divided in 1997 into two sectors, H1 under Palestinian jurisdiction and H2 administered by Israel. About 40 per cent of the Palestinians in H2 have been displaced, the remaining 20,000 forbidden on main streets.

    Nearby, at a museum in the Jewish quarter, Noam Arnon, spokesman for Hebron’s 800 Jews, displays pictures of Jews killed and maimed in the 1929 massacre by Arabs seeking to drive Jews out.

    “Terror has been destroyed. We are here again to make sure justice will win. It’s not simple because somehow the world supports the terror and the idea that Jews have no right to live here.

    “By building this community, we say no.”

    A few doors up, Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro, claiming he has received death threats from settlers, talks about Israeli efforts to replace Palestinians with settlers. “Shabbat (Jewish sabbath) is my nightmare. They burnt our house – settlers expose themselves on Shabbat. I told one of them ‘is it allowed on Shabbat?’ They say ‘if it’s against you it’s OK’. If you destroy people’s dignity, they go outside for revenge.”

    Reflecting confusion among the touring Jews, Micah Rose, 23, put it this way: “It’s uncomfortable to confront so many different perspectives and to hear pieces of rationalisation and explanation that at once rang true to me and directly contradict other things … if you have conflicting feelings about Israel, the easy thing is not to confront that. If American Jews don’t engage with those issues then we risk losing very important voices in the American Jewish political paradigm.”

    Adam Ragson, 22, said the tour “opened my eyes to the immoral and ugly face of martial law in the West Bank”.

    “Israel is committing serious human rights violations that do not embody the fundamental Jewish values I studied in my Jewish upbringing,” he said.”

    Breaking The Silence is an organisation that openly wants to “end the occupation” – it does not believe that Jews have the right to live in the West Bank. It is entitled to argue that position. In doing so it will have a very different impact on the mind of a young Y Gen American tourist than if Adam was given the opportunity to share the same tour on another day for the same length of time with someone like David Wilder who has a very different viewpoint.

    Sure – apparently the visit took in a Palestinian human rights activist and for balance Noam Arnon. That is the supposed balance that Breaking the Silence offered. However what else was said by Breaking the Silence on the way out to Hebron and back – we don’t know. The tourists seemed confused. In the end they came to the conclusions they expressed.

    However when Adam’s quoted remarks are wrongly attributed by you as having been made by him as an ex soldier rather than a tourist – they have a very different import if seen as coming from someone in the army who has been an actual witness to unlawful acts committed by his fellow soldiers.

    I am not trying to whitewash the fact that some personnel in the IDF do commit unlawful acts that should be dealt with immediately and with the due force of the law.

    Those who witness any such questionable conduct should be reporting it immediately and should go to some higher authority – even the media – if their complaint is not dealt with.

    Those who witness such acts and remain silent because they fear the consequences need to examine their own consciences .

    However casting a slur over the integrity of the entire military because of the faults of a few is collective demonisation and delegitimisation that our enemies strive to achieve every day.

    We do not need to play into their evil hands by misreading and misunderstanding an article such as that appearing in the Australian.

    The Australian was accurate in identifying Adam Ragson and the comments he made as a tourist in Hebron – conducted by an interest group who want Israel out of the entire West Bank and its 500000 Jews removed from their homes.

    Your identification of Adam as an ex-soldier and not a tourist is the kind of factual misrepresentation that is the bread and butter of Arab propaganda. Representing his remarks as those of an ex-soldier – rather than an American tourist – is regrettable.

    I admire your frequent articles as an excellent example of what many others in Y Gen should be doing – but don’t.

    Keep up the good work – but be very careful to make sure everything you write is spot on and can be justified if challenged.

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