I’ve been binge-watching season 4 of “House of Cards” this week. One of the things portrayed in this excellent TV series is how the generals constantly push for military action while the executive branch typically applies the brakes. I guess this is typical for most democracies, where the civilian government is composed of the “cooler heads” that keeps the military in check.
In recent years, the opposite is happening in Israel. After long years of almost uncontested right-wing rule by Binyamin Netanyahu’s various governments, the “cooler heads” seem to be those of the generals and the security branches. This was very evident in 2011-2012, when Netanyahu – and his then Minster of Defense, Ehud Barak – pushed for a military strike against Iran. The heads of the IDF and the Mossad strongly opposed this militaristic adventurism and prevented such a strike.
And now, in recent months, in face of the generally oppressive atmosphere brought about by the most right-wing government ever to rule the country, the generals are proving to be the responsible adults with the cooler heads.
I wrote before about comments made by the Chief of General Staff, Gadi Eizenkott, who spoke up against the government (indirectly, of course) in light of what he viewed as its support for unethical behavior on the part of his soldiers. Yesterday his deputy, Yair Golan, spoke out on Holocaust Remembrance Day and said “if there is one thing that is scary in remembering the Holocaust, it is noticing horrific processes which developed in Europe – particularly in Germany – 70, 80, and 90 years ago, and finding remnants of that here among us in the year 2016”. Needless to say, and proving the very point the generals were making, both men were severely criticized by members of the right-wing government for “daring” to speak out.
On one hand I am terrified by the prospect of military generals, and not the civilian government, acting as the responsible adults. This is not how things should work in a properly functioning democracy. On the other had, given the ongoing erosion of democracy by the current government, it is encouraging to see that at least someone “up there” understands the dangers and is speaking up against them.
Think of it this way. Imagine a German general speaking out against the signs of antisemitism and hatred in Europe in the early 1930s: hate graffiti, burning of Jewish buildings and books, anti-democratic laws, etc. Would we today see this German general as speaking out of line, or would we see him as a hero?