Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz is Israel’s highest-ranking military officer. He is Israel Defense Force (IDF) Chief of Staff (COS).
While he reports to civilian control, his word is law in the military. When he talks, soldiers listen. We might be wise to do the same.
For example, General Gantz recently spoke about the month of May, 2013. May was not a good month for Jews and soldiers in Judea-Samaria (called, ‘the West Bank’ in International news). During that month, Arabs escalated their attacks against everything Jewish—soldiers, civilians, farmland, forests and homes.
Since 2011, Arab attacks in Judea-Samaria are up three-fold. Fire-bombings are up four-fold. In addition, those attacks were not just against soldiers and the occasional civilian. They were primarily against civilians, targeting vehicles traveling public roads, individual Jewish homes in small communities, and Jews walking within those communities.
In mid-May, photos emerged showing Arabs stoning IDF soldiers, forcing the soldiers into what some called a ‘rout’. In late May, General Gantz appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to explain why soldiers had not been allowed to protect themselves by firing their weapons at the stone-throwers.
Some in the Knesset did not like seeing photos of IDF soldiers standing helplessly while facing rioting attackers. Others did not like seeing the IDF run away. Many wanted to know why IDF Rules of Engagement forbid the firing of weapons during these (and other, similar) attacks.
Most Israeli news vendors reported that Gantz explained two things to the Committee: first, he could no longer protect Jews in Judea-Samaria; and second, he would not change Rules of Engagement to adjust for this increase in attacks. He would not act, he said, because he was concerned about making things worse. He said, “If we let go of the reins, there will be escalation and we will lose control.”
But embedded in one news story (The Jerusalem Post) was a different tale. First of all, the fear of losing control and escalating tensions appears not to have been his main reason for prohibiting live-fire response. His main reason, according to the reported testimony, was his belief that a live-fire order would create unjust loss of life and a moral issue for Israel (emphasis mine). Escalation and loss of control were secondary to these moral considerations.
Apparently, everyone missed this point.
His words are shocking. They echo Israel’s enemies. His words suggest he supports the anti-Zionist moral argument that killing attacking Arabs is unjust. His testimony declares that Israel cannot protect its soldiers because such behaviour would make Israel guilty of immoral behavior. But this is not Jewish morality. It is morality as defined by those who would destroy Israel.
Why does the IDF Chief of Staff turn to Israel’s enemies for his morality?
He told this Knesset Committee that he could not protect Jews in Judea-Samaria. Why not? Ethicists who write about the definitions of ‘Just War’ say that self-defense is a legitimate justification for military action. Self-Defense, in other words, is just and moral. Why does General Gantz rely on those who hate Israel to determine that IDF action in this situation would create something unjust and immoral?
Men like Richard Falk, Thomas Friedman and MJ Rosenberg argue that Israel has no moral defense whatsoever. Does Our Chief Of Staff buy into that assertion?
Decades ago, anti-Zionists despised Jews who fought with the Irgun. Those Jews were said to use tactics (attacks on civilians, ambushes and firebombs) that the anti-Zionist called unscrupulous, immoral acts of terror. But now, when Arabs use these same tactics, anti-Zionists proclaim that the noble and innocent Arab is simply fulfilling his moral duty. This double-standard is not morality. It’s hypocrisy.
The moral question here is not about IDF behavior. It’s about Arabs who use violence and sling-shots to kill--and who throw fire-bombs, set fires in our desert climate and attack Jews and Jewish property. To suggest that armed self-defense against such attacks leads to immoral results is to support anti-Zionists who make three anti-Israel claims: (1) Judea-Samaria does not belong to Jews; (2) Judea-Samaria has been stolen from Arabs and must be returned immediately; and (3) anytime Israel harms an Arab—for any reason-- that Arab’s Human Rights have been violated and International Humanitarian Law has been broken.
Based upon these assumptions, anti-Zionists argue that any action by the IDF against Arabs is wrong. It is immoral, unjust and, by definition, a violation of virtually every moral principle that guides the treatment of human beings. General Gantz’ language suggests he agrees with these assumptions.
General Gantz’ job as IDF Chief of Staff is to protect Jews. But he now says he can do that only for some Jews. He rejects Jewish self-defense. He chooses anti-Israel definitions of morality over Jewish definitions. Are we sure this is in his job description?