Annual Conference on National Security and Democracy - Day 2
The second day of the conference focused on public trust in the military and the challenges peripheral communities face in the IDF. Among those presenting were Minister Matan Kahane, Minister Penina Tamano-Shata, former Justice Hanan Meltzer and Major General Eliezer Toledano, the IDF's Commander of the Southern Command.
Minister Kahane added: “Truly, well done to the national religious soldiers who take responsibility for the nation’s security, but where are all the rest? The fact that kibbutzniks no longer enter combat units in such numbers, nor other population groups, is an indicator of an unhealthy state of affairs.”
Regarding the prospect of canceling the exemption age for ultra-Orthodox men, the minister said:
“This is a paradoxical situation: Those who are opposed are the ultra-Orthodox politicians, because this step will take away their control over the young men. Ultra-Orthodox society is the solution to our problems, not the problem. I hope they can do this while maintaining the ultra-Orthodox way of life, but integration into Israeli society is a process that is happening anyway, and in 2050, when they form a third of the population, they will be different, and will understand that they have to take on a share of the responsibility for Israeli society.”
Regarding matters of religion and state, Minister Kahane said:
“The main source of division among Jewish citizens of Israel is the issue of religion and state. Over the years, the status quo has gradually been eroded at the expense of the religious community, while hatred has grown. We can reach broad understandings and agreements and leave aside the extremist positions on both sides, and by making concessions on both sides, we can find common ground.”
Penina Tamano-Shata, Minister of Immigrant Absorption, spoke about the role played by the military in integrating immigrants:
“This process is not something that the IDF has overtly taken on, but it has a significant impact on Israeli society. So, the IDF cannot simply leave it to chance, because this is even a kind of social experiment; there need to be the proper tools in place for an experience [military conscription] that can be destructive. A large percentage of soldiers who commit suicide are new immigrants, which is not simply the IDF’s fault.”
Minister Tamano-Shata referred to a bill she has put forward to prevent the funds paid to lone soldiers being seized by debtors, and said that legislation should be used sparingly, and that help should be sought from the non-profit sector.
“New immigrants, including Ethiopian Israelis, are highly motivated to serve in the military. There are challenges—the suicide rate and financial challenges—and thus it is important to give commanders parameters and standards so that they can identify soldiers in crisis in time. One of the things we are working on is expunging youth offender records, so that we can get more young people into the IDF and not simply give up on them.”
MK Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin of the Labor Party responded to the statement by MK Ben Barak on the previous day of the conference, that recruitment to the IDF should not be restricted according to religion or ethnicity:
“Does the Arab public want to participate in the security apparatuses and in military service? I’m not sure, because the Arab public has its own opinions, as it should. I cannot say that all Arab citizens will join the army the minute the doors are opened to them. It’s mutual: the State of Israel itself is not so open, there is no basic trust that if Arabs enter the security institutions, then Israel will necessarily be happy about it. There is a great deal of mutual suspicion."
“All the efforts to recruit Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox and other groups to the military are lengthy processes, requiring a lot of funds and public opinion campaigns, about war, about the conflict, about the occupation. It would be much more worthwhile to simply put an end to it instead of endlessly arguing about it. Before we start talking again about whether Arabs will sign up and fight against their families, their neighbors, and their friends, let’s choose a different policy.”
Adv. Shai Nitzan, former State Attorney and Deputy Attorney General for Special Assignments, said today:
“The attorney general is one person, but it is also an entire system, and the same is true of the state attorney. Both deal with security issues, and at the State Attorney’s Office we have tens, if not hundreds, of people who work in this field. Splitting up the attorney general’s powers is an empty slogan, and people do not understand what it means. They suggest taking away all the criminal legal responsibilities from the attorney general, and giving him all the administrative legal responsibilities, which will in turn be taken away from the state attorney. Anyone thinking seriously about making changes to the division of responsibilities between the attorney general and the state attorney should be aware that this is a very difficult thing to implement.
“If, for the sake of argument, the state attorney no longer deals with administrative issues, then this does not affect just the High Court of Justice department, which numbers over 30 attorneys. In every District Attorney’s Office today, there are tens of attorneys working in this field, so who will they report to? These are dramatic changes, and thus the debate until today has been very general and theoretical. If we seriously want to consider making changes, we need to sit down and study the issue properly. It is always possible to make changes, and there are good reasons to do so to some degree or other, perhaps not the dramatic changes being mooted, but a more partial change. We will work at this in the future, at a personal level too.”
The former state attorney said further, regarding conflicts between settlers and the Palestinian population, with IDF soldiers in the middle:
“I read that there was a conference on ‘Settler Violence,’ and someone said, ‘Give us the weapons and we’ll eradicate the problem.’ To my mind, this is a ridiculous statement, it causes harm. It is completely unfounded; and neither is the issue one of ‘settler violence.’ These are small groups, not ‘the settlers’; there are 350,000–400,000 settlers, so the phrase ‘settler violence’ is inappropriate.”
According to Adv. Nitzan, if events occur, then IDF soldiers have to act, even if this is uncomfortable and unpleasant for the army. This is a very problematic issue, and it needs to be given the proper consideration, but we should not attach blame to all the settlers in the territories.
Regarding the possible involvement of the Shin Bet in crime in Arab society, he said:
“The Shin Bet is an organization that has been given special, far-reaching tools for acting against enemies of the state. If we use them in the regular fight against crime, I don’t know where this will lead, and so despite the temptation, there are things we should not do in a democratic state to citizens of the state, nor to those who are not citizens.”
Justice Hanan Meltzer, President of the Israel Press Council and former Vice-President of the Supreme Court:
“Judges should not cut themselves off from what’s going on outside. I have always been in favor of freedom of the press, and I think that judges need to keep up to date and be aware of what is going on, but try not to be influenced.
“As professional judges, we need to focus on the case and on the law. The media is extremely important. Criticism—if it is honest, fair, and to the point, and not fake news, which we have also had recently—is legitimate and we should not be upset by it.
“In the Zadorov case, when I had to give a ruling, there were two journalistic investigations carried out. I decided that I should not look at them, because I didn’t want them to influence me, even subconsciously, but I did read the tens of folders of materials.”
Major General Eliezer Toledano, Commander of IDF Southern Command, said today:
“I believe that agreeing expectations between the IDF and the Israeli people is the first component of victory. The current operational approach was tested in Operation Guardian of the Walls, and now, around half a year since the end of that operation, we can say that there is a good level of security, and it is being tested anew every day. That’s how it is when facing terrorist armies.
“We are preparing new maneuvers for the Gaza Strip, maneuvers with high potential for significant gains, but with every maneuver there are gains and there are costs. I believe that the picture of victory of the next battle is strong and clear even before the battle begins. The high level of security is allowing the State of Israel to flourish and grow.”
Major General Toledano said further:
“There are hundreds of terrorists in Hamas engaged in efforts to spread fear. They call it ‘public information campaigns.’ Terror has always sought platforms on which to display its actions, and today it gets them for free, via every smartphone and every camera on every corner. This is a period in which a single picture is sometimes worth a bomb or a plane. Democracies are duty bound to protect themselves against the use made of these means by the enemy against its citizens. Facing a terrorist army, Israel’s resilience is its most important asset, and we should protect it in every way possible. Resilience in war, and certainly during normal times, is also expressed in the public backing given to the IDF. This is the most important and effective weapon for fighting terrorists.”
“The people’s army is a unique and unparalleled model. I would not serve in a professional army. The nature of war has changed, but not the character of the IDF’s fighters. The IDF is an exemplary organization, this is what you demand of us, and it is what we demand of ourselves—high norms and standards. Wherever we need to learn and improve, it is our duty to do so quickly and professionally,” he added.