Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Did Naftali Bennett Renege On His Refusal To Carry Out Expulsion Orders?

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Naftali Bennett, the newly-elected leader of the combined Jewish Home and National Union Party in Israel, has been rising in the polls in an extraordinary fashion reaching 15-18 Knesset seats compared to 5 in the  current parliament.

Naftali Bennett - newly-elected leader of the religious-Zionist political movement 

In a Dec. 20, 2012 interview with TV personality Nissim Mishal, Bennett was asked what he would do as a soldier if faced with an order to expel Jewish families from their homes in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). In no uncertain terms, he responded that he is not capable of carrying out such an order because it is immoral (translation below video clip):

Mishal: You a Major in the reserves?
Bennett: Correct. 
Mishal: If you receive an order to evacuate a civilian outpost or [Jewish] town in the Shomron [West Bank], what will you do?
Bennett: If I… 
Mishal: Don’t evade the question by beating around the bush. No speeches. What will you do?
Bennett: Listen! If I receive an order to evacuate a Jew from his home and expel him, I, personally, - my conscience won’t allow me to. I would ask the commander to relieve me of that responsibility. I will not issue calls publicly to refuse orders. I am not capable of entering… 
Mishal: You would prefer to go to jail?
Bennett: Yes. In such an extreme circumstance, yes. I will act to prevent such a circumstance from arising.
Mishal: In other words, you will refuse orders? In simple Hebrew?
Bennett: I learned as a soldier…

Mishal: You will refuse orders!
Bennett: Why don’t you listen to me ? 
Mishal: Answer me. You will disobey orders?
Bennett: I am not capable – not capable, I’m sorry. To enter a home...

Mishal: In other words, the leader of the Jewish Home party who wants to be in the government says in a live broadcast, “I will disobey orders. I will go to jail.”
Bennett: Listen Nissim. I am a soldier for twenty-two years. I have led soldiers into battle and into operations. Don't preach to me here what I will do and won't do. 
Mishal: I will preach to you. Refusing orders? This crosses red lines!
Bennett: I will explain. An integral part of being a soldier is the ability to be a conscientious objector. .If G-d forbid, G-d forbid they will want to expel 400,000 [Jews]... 
Mishal: Do you hear your own words?
Bennett: Do YOU hear your own words? Do you understand what it is? I am not capable of such a deed. Are you capable of going... 
Mishal: The young soldiers watching you now - what are they saying? We will also disobey orders.
Bennett: Listen. I think it would be a terrible mistake. I would come and beg and beg... 
Mishal: Did you educate your soldiers as a Major?
Bennett: I educated them not to obey an order which is immoral [lit. that has a black flag hanging from it]. To expel people from this land is a terrible and awful thing. I will act with all my soul and all my faculties to prevent this from happening, and, with the help of G-d, if we will be in the driver's seat [ed. in the next government] and the public will give us its support, we will prevent the next tragedy from happening. They expelled 8,000 Jews [from Gaza in 2005]. What did we get in return for expelling 8,000 Jews from their homes? Missiles?

Immediately following the above interview, Prime Minister Netanyahu and numerous others issued condemnations of Bennett for "calling on soldiers to refuse orders." Netanyahu declared that a person who calls to refuse orders will not be a part of his government.

Bennett wanted to soften the impact of his statement and in follow up interviews, emphasized the need for soldiers to carry out orders. Many people concluded from Bennett's sudden change of heart that he is just another wishy-washy politician who doesn't keep his word, and issues statements in accordance with the popular trend of the moment.

I present two follow-up statements of Bennett to enable the readers to decide for themselves.

First is Bennett at a press conference that he called to clarify his position on obeying orders (English translation below Hebrew video):

"I didn't issue a call to refuse orders, not during the interview with Nissim Mishal and not anywhere else ever. For twenty-two years, I have served in the IDF as a fighter and commander. I fought in all of Israel's wars during that period. And I say again, I did not call for disobeying orders. Any viewer with intelligence who watched the [Mishal] program understands this. But in the Likud and the political arena, they pounced on my statement and distorted my words creating an image as though I called for disobeying orders. In order to gain a quarter of a Knesset seat, they damaged the unity of the IDF. 
"On Thursday, I spoke passionately from my heart, and I do not apologize for my statement. With that, I am now not an individual, but rather a public personality, a political leader. 
"And now I will address this issue with complete clarity. An order to uproot an Arab village or Jewish town from its land is a fatal blow to the most basic human rights, and it places the soldiers before a heart-rendering dilemma between the value of human rights on one side, and the value of fulfilling orders on the other. This is a dilemma too hard to bear. It cannot be swept under the carpet. I pray with all my heart that such an order will never again be issued. But bottom line, if all options are exhausted, I say very clearly: a soldier must fulfill the orders of the army.

In the above statement to the press, Bennett focused on the principle that every soldier must fulfill orders including himself. But he didn't relate to what he would do when faced with an order which violates his conscience. He only mentioned that he does not apologize for his remarks on the Mishal program.

In an interview with Yaakov Alon after the Mishal program, Bennett reiterates the obligation to fulfill orders, but also touches upon the principle that a soldier should not fulfill an immoral order. Click here for the full Hebrew interview [fast forward to the 9:17 minute mark].

Translation of Alon interview:
Alon: Why did you call to disobey orders?
Bennett: Listen. On Nissim's show, I spoke from my heart. The subject is a very difficult one - uprooting an Arab village or Jewish town... 
Alon: You draw a parallel between an Arab village and a Jewish town?
Bennett: Totally. After all, we are talking about human beings in both cases. But I will say with utmost clarity: A soldier must fulfill orders including me, Naftali Bennett, a Major in the reserves. This point cannot remain ambiguous. If tomorrow a person from the left will oppose bombing a target in Gaza or serving in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], our army will fall apart. We, as fighters, must fulfill orders, even if we very much disagree with them.  
Alon: Including evacuating Jewish towns? Evacuating settlers?
Bennett: Any order which is not immoral [lit. in which a black flag is not hanging from it] we must fulfill, including me, Naftali Bennett. 
Alon: But an order to evacuate a Jewish town does have a black flag hanging from it?
Bennett: Yaakov, each person has a conscience, and I am not going to guide each individual soldier. I am saying... 
Alon: I don't want to argue with you like Nissim Mishal, but, you know, you are rounding the corners right now. State clearly, must soldiers...
Bennett: I will tell you. If the government of Israel in a democratic decision will reach the terrible conclusion to evacuate an Arab village or Jewish town as a government resolution, the IDF and each soldier will be obligated to fulfill the order, including me.

After a careful review of Bennett's follow-up statements, please leave your comment below as to whether Bennett reneged on his position that he won't expel Jews from their home or not. My comment appears first.

As a parting shot, I leave you with a statement by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on this topic [hat tip to Dr. Aharon Lerner of IMRA for making this video]. He was speaking in 1995 while in the opposition:

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  1. Bennett did NOT renege. In different interviews, he skips back and forth between two principles which do indeed co-exist: 1) the obligation to fulfill every single order whether a soldier likes it or not, and 2) the right and obligation to excuse oneself from fulfilling a command that violates one's conscience.

    With Mishal, Bennett focused on the second principle. In his press statement and with Alon, he masterfully handled Alon’s question by focusing on the first principle with a brief allusion to the second principle.

    Bennett is walking on a very thin line, and I admit that there is room for debate. So comment below. But please, write in your full or partial name or at least state where you are from.

  2. Being a non-Jewish Swede I did read - was it from Dore Gold reminding us about the discussions in Nurnberg of old. Simply - a soldier cannot hide behind "I just followed orders" to do things totally against every feeling of moral. International Law tells us that the mandate of Palestina is the JEWISH HOMELAND so an order of committing crime against that should obviously not be given, the commander should be reported instead.

  3. I think he should of stuck to his guns better, clever or not, the latter responses were not clear enough, which makes it appear he changed opinions, even though I know he didn't. It is better to be hated for who you are, than liked for who you are not. To be a leader, you must not fear expressing your beliefs, and must stick firm to what you present, or you will be torn apart. I can at least respect a person for being real, over what their particular opinion may be, whether I agree with it or not. Just sayin :)

  4. Naftali Bennett -- and for that matter, every Jew worth the title -- should be demanding answers to the question of whether the soldiers who complied with the expulsion orders to evacuate Gush Katif and the northern Shomron are excusable because they were "just following orders," considering the consequences, still ongoing, of that near-suicidal operation. I'm glad the Swede above was reminded of Nuremberg -- in case readers don't know or remember, this German city was where the Nazi trials took place after the Holocaust, and the German government was roundly condemned for the murder of our 6 million -- because this is the place to start the argument of where obedience to military orders begins and ends.

    Basically, Mr. Bennett was right the first time, and he might have followed up with a strong question rather than try to soften a statement that didn't need to be, leaving him open to the accusation of waffling and the implication that he would turn on his own people after all. And Mr. Netanyahu doesn't do himself any favors by implying that he would deny the right to refuse orders due to violation of conscience.

    After the Holocaust, it should be considered anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli to disallow such refusal. Actually, it was, for the soldiers who didn't want to serve on the "West Bank" some years ago. It was hypocritical, to say the least, to punish soldiers for refusing to evacuate residents of Gush Katif. As the English say, what's good for the gander is good for the goose. Maybe Proverbs has a better way to say it, but I can't think of it right now.

    Shavua tov v'chodesh tov.

    -CDG, Yerushalayim

  5. 4 a man who lives beyond the green line, you r foolish 2 vote 4 Mr. Bennett. Baruch you are the one who is going 2 suffer if the erev rav government says to demolish Beit El. Why waste your time effort supporting Bennett. Support Otzma Leyisrael. Please explain why Bennett is better than Ben Ari?

  6. i am very dissapointed with naftalis follow up interview.by adding an arab village into the equation it is the same as the media that equate israeli retaliation with arab hostility. there are thousands of illegally built arab homes & villages that are left alone because politicians are afraid to upset the arabs.netanyahu is acting all high & mighty when he betrayed the people who voted for him which is also like refusing orders.politicians need not look further than ariel sharon who lured the jews to populate gush katif then turned his back on them.
    we have to stop perpetuating the lie that there is a palestinian people and that the arabs could ever or would ever want to live in peace with jews.the only one we have to answere to & obey is g-d.

  7. Baruch, in the first interview he said he would disobey orders to uproot homes. In his follow-up statement and second interview he said that all soldiers must obey all orders. I don't see how this is anything but a glaring contradiction: 1) "If I receive an order to evacuate a Jew from his home and expel him, I, personally, - my conscience won’t allow me to."

    "2) A soldier must fulfill orders including me, Naftali Bennett, a Major in the reserves."

    "3) I say very clearly: a soldier must fulfill the orders of the army."

    So then he himself must fulfill any order, except that he wouldn't??? The fact that he doesn't admit the contradictions in his statements is even worse. But that doesn't matter, since he's become the Obama of the Dati Leumi movement (lehavdil, and probably through no fault of his own, since it his followers who seem to have established some kind of personality cult around him).

    I have no lack of confidence and respect for Bennett the Jew, Bennett the Soldier and Bennett the Businessman. But I was very skeptical of Bennett the Politician when everyone was starting to fawn over him, and I am even more skeptical of him now.

  8. ...And the fact that he insists on feigning sympathy for illegally built Arab settlements only makes me wonder that much more how far he would bend his own principles in submitting to political pressure. Bekitzur, I get the impression that this is a man who is afraid to stand to stand by his principles when the heat is on. As such, I don't see how he's any different than most of the other contenders out there.

  9. Now here's what Bennett SHOULD have said in the second interview:

    "The integrity of the State is based on the fulfillment of military orders. At the same time, the military should not be used for non-military functions that denigrate the integrity and welfare of the State. The decision to evacuate Gaza and pull its Jewish residents out of their homes amounts to an illegal order, contrary to the will of the people and the welfare of the State, and in my tenure as MK I would make sure that the government does not issue such orders to the army in the future, ensuring the loyalty, morale and integrity of our armed forces."

    This took me about 10 minutes to write when I first posted it. I'm sure Bennett, with his vaunted rhetorical abilities, should have been able to do even better.

  10. @Ben-Yechiel - I completely agree with the 3 items you posted here.

  11. As I recall, before Gush Katif there were two views: that of Rav Shapira, zt"l, and that of Rav Eliyahu, zt"l. Rav Shapira said every soldier must refuse orders up front. Rav Eliyahu said a soldier must not refuse orders, but where does it say a soldier must be ABLE to carry out orders? He believed that soldiers should go on their mission, but the pain they feel should be so great they can't carry out the orders - not refusal, but inability. Imagine how much more difficult it would have been had commanders not known which soldiers they could count on and which they should send away from Gush Katif?

  12. JfromC,
    I have been a soldier and I have REFUSED ORDERS that I considered immoral or illegal,and had no qualms about it.My superior officer said:'if it was war I would just take my pistol and shoot you!", to which I said back to him:"Sir, if it was war, I would just have shut you myself first for giving me such an order" Bennett is like Netenyaho,wobbly and does not feel comfortable being a jew in his own country.That is from a non-jew who saved quite a few of them in his young days,albeit only was 6 years at that time.Even then I knew killing your neighbour was wrong just because he was a jew.If Benett wishes to lead he will stand up for those, THE JEWS, he wishes to lead and forget about arabs and others, who in the end will have to be moved anyways, so why kill a bunch of his own population before that happens then?THere are enough of them already like that there,Peres comes to mind who should be long gone gone.

  13. JfromC
    a small addition to the above:I would NOT move my countrymen out of their homes for anybody's convenience,for then I would not have a country to defend, and if my countrymen decided to JAIL me for this, I would not have a country any more either.The Army I'd belong to would only defend MY country and me, and would not allow ANYBODY to usurp power that would harm MY country.Politicians may command the Army I serve only as long as they are FOR the people.I'd not serve politicians and their games ever as we all know what they lead to.Benett's interlude just points this out well.GushKatif just supports it.What did you get for that immoral order to remove 8000 jews?30,000 rockets and dead people?

  14. This hypothetical is the reason to vote for a party that will never expel (other than by laws of eminent domain)anyone from the legally acquired land on which they live. It highlights the conflict the nations impose on Israel to put the IDF and its soldiers in direct conflict. One set of rules applies to the nations and another to Israel - that's how they would have it and Naftali falls into that trap with this clever question. His response should have been - under my leadership that command would never be issued, but he hasn't quite figured it out yet...


Feel free to comment on the above post. If you're going to attack me, do it with elegance.