Gideon Levy: IDF draft dodgers are heroes, not criminals

By Gideon Levy - HAARETZ

4 May 2009

Yitzhak Laor, our best protest poet, may soon face arrest. On Independence Day eve he published a poem in Haaretz's literary supplement with the lines: "Perhaps shame prevents me from getting up to embrace my son / And warning him of those who want to enlist him." Arresting Laor for having written such lines may sound like fiction, but something similar has already happened. Last week nine activists from New Profile, a feminist-pacifist organization formed in 1998 that aims to demilitarize Israeli society, were arrested on suspicion of incitement and assisting draft dodgers. The police raided their homes and confiscated their computers. The military advocate general requested the raid, the attorney general obliged and the police carried it out.

The public reacted to the raid with typical indifference; it came just as we were busy enjoying the cheesy Independence Day holiday, complete with songs of self-praise about Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East. But a democracy that raids the homes of political activists is no democracy. Democracies are tested by how they treat the fringes of society.

Locking up three and a half million Palestinians in the occupied territories and denying them basic human rights has already undermined Israel's pretentions of democracy, but now dangerous cracks are appearing in our Jews-only democracy. They aren't new - they first appeared in the early years of independence - and now they're back. Those who make light of the recent arrests may soon find themselves dealing with a new regime instead of New Profile.


New Profile is a legally registered association that believes it's possible to live in a state that "doesn't consist of soldiers." That's its right, perhaps even its duty. "We do not encourage, incite or preach in favor of draft dodging," Smadar Ben-Natan, the organization's lawyer, wrote in a letter to the deputy attorney general after the raid. "We offer a stage where ideological questions concerning objections to serving in the army [are raised], and offer information and support to anyone interested."

Last year, when an organization with the sickening motto "a true Israeli doesn't dodge the draft" was founded, New Profile responded with another: "Think before you're drafted." Yes, it's okay to think before you enlist, even in Israel. Yes, you're allowed to think that military service in an army turned into an army of occupation is immoral. Yes, you don't have to want to become a soldier automatically, even in Israel. And you can even support someone who believes that way.

New Profile isn't the first movement to deal with the issue of refusing to enlist. It was preceded by other left-wing movements, as well as some from the right. After Israel's pullout from Gaza, the right also began preaching against enlisting in the army. But no right-wing rabbi has been arrested, no computer confiscated.

The hunting season on New Profile exposes a double standard in the way the legal authorities treat the left and right, a standard all too common. Protesters against the separation fence in the West Bank town of Bil'in are routinely shot at, sometimes fatally. But the Israel Defense Forces has never shot and killed settlers during a protest, even though they are much more violent than anti-fence protesters. (In Bil'in, even High Court decisions are ignored.)

The police have limited the activities of the leftist organization Anarchists against the Wall and raided the homes of its members. At a time when fascist-like crusades against artists who did not serve in the army are considered normal, it might be good to remember that a quarter of army-aged young people in Israel receive the army's permission not to enlist, claiming that Torah is their craft.

It's time we appreciated opinionated youths - from the left and right - who decide not to serve in the army for ethical reasons and are willing to pay the price of their convictions. The IDF is strong enough without them. Israel is strong enough to tolerate those who think differently, even subversively. Maybe in due time they will be praised as the true heroes of our time.

Words don't kill, but police raids on political activists undermine our legal and moral basis. We must not keep quiet over the raid. Those who are silent now should not be surprised if one day they wake up and see the police outside the home of a poet whose message is forbidden.