Before I head off for the Galilee for the week, I’d wanted to give an award for statement in the past week’s Israeli news showing the least understanding of someone else’s motivation. Try as I might, though, I can’t break the tie between two contenders:
- Col. Ilan Malka, commander of the Givati Brigade, on Breaking the Silence’s publication of soldiers’ testimony on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter: “I have a sort of feeling that they’re doing this out of some kind of evil.” (Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 4, 2009). Former combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces published the first-hand accounts of other soldiers on their service, accounts that point to a policy set by top commanders that led to unnecessary civilian deaths and massive physical damage. The only reason that Malka can imagine that they would do this is that they are bad, that evil seized commmand of their actions. It does not enter his mind that they might be deeply concerned about the direction taken by the army in which they risked their lives to defend their country.
- Tziki Sela, commander of the Interior Ministry’s Oz unit, responsible for deporting illegal immigrants (otherwise known as undocumented foreign workers), on human rights organizations that campaigned against expelling children born in Israel to such immigrants: “They’re anarchists who seek to eradicate the state of Israel.” (Ma’ariv, Aug. 5, 2009) Let’s put aside for the moment the Orwellian name of the unit – oz means “might” in Hebrew, as if picking up undocumented immigrants and their Israeli born children was a high-risk commando operation. Sela can’t imagine that anyone would object to taking kids born here, educated here, knowing no other country, and deporting them — unless the protesters are out to destroy the state. Sela estimates that there are 1,200 such children. Allowing them to stay here, in his mind, will lead to the end of the Jewish state. He can’t fathom that others might believe that preserving the Jewish character of the state might require giving refuge. (After a public storm over his words, Sela backed down and said that the human rights organizations’ activities were “legitimate.”)
Besides a complete lack of curiousity about the motivations of their critics, Malka and Sela share some fuzziness on how democracy works.
Malka said that Breaking the Silence should have written a letter to the chief of staff about specific incidents that took play in Gaza. But the point of the report wasn’t the individual incidents — it was the policy they reflected. In a democracy, that is not only a proper but a necessary subject for public debate.
Sela, pre-retraction, did not seem to get that a public debate on immigration and citizenship policy is not only acceptable, but essential. “I’m carrying out a policy,” he said in defense of his own actions. No one else should question that policy, he seems to think. For that matter, he can’t imagine questioning it himself. He’s just following orders.
Lest it be said that I’ve never had a good word for Bibi Netanyahu, here’s a good word: Thank you for giving into pressure and imposing a three-month moratorium on deporting children. That’s a three-month down payment on a change in direction.