The IDF is undergoing a process of value erosion, expressed both in harm to Jewish values, and weakness against the enemy * The cause is the extreme secular culture, whose positions have greatly influenced the IDF top brass * The radical secular left controls the media, courts, and academia, and is also training future generations in these fields * Their positions are not acceptable to the general public, as reflected by a downturn in the humanities in academia and the readership of secular left-wing newspapers * There is something to learn from the secular left, the problem is their domination and tyranny * In the short-term, problems in the IDF should be corrected, and in the long term –to bring about balance in public institutions
Freedom of Expression
Following last week’s protest letter signed by hundreds of rabbis in support of freedom of expression, I was reminded of the times six years ago when I was placed in the eye of the storm as a result of expressing my halachic opinion that the commandments of the Torah come before military orders. My position was severely attacked by the Defense Minister and officers of the General Staff, and of course, the secular media. Because of my refusal to retract the basic position that halakha comes before military orders, the yeshiva of Har Bracha was removed from the Hesder program (a year-and-a half ago the yeshiva was reinstated, and to prevent future risk, and so I wouldn’t have to worry about openly expressing Torah positions, a few months afterwards I decided to resign from my official position as dean of the Hesder Yeshiva).
Not long ago, at the request and plea of the person responsible for arranging symposiums for officers in the Operations Division, I gave them a talk. A representative of the PLO spoke to the officers before I did. After the lecture, I was asked about the Torah’s position in regards to a case in which a conflict arises between a military command and halakha. I replied that in a case of ‘pikuach nefesh’ (saving of lives), the military command should be carried out, because ‘pikuach nefesh’ overrides even Shabbat. But in case where there is no ‘pikuach nefesh’, one must comply with the halakha. As a result of my answer, a scandalous directive was issued by the staff of the Defense Minister at the time, Mr. Ya’alon, calling for all public bodies connected to the IDF to refrain from any association with me. To my regret, and to the shame of the Ministry of Defense, this directive is still in force.
The Erosion of Values in the IDF
Over ten years ago I had already cautioned about the complex process occurring in the army, where on the one hand, it is easier for a religious soldier to pray and keep Shabbat and kashrut thanks to the increase of religious commanders, especially in combat units; on the other hand, however, a process of empowering leftist secular views is taking place, which is eroding national and religious values, as noted by Rabbi Yigal Levenstein in his lecture that dealt with the imposing of liberal, pluralistic values in their extreme secular interpretation, at the expense of Jewish and national values.
In general, it is possible to say that during these years the IDF shifted to the secular left, and the results are evident on the battlefield, where the IDF is unable of expressing its full strength, and also forced to bear too many casualties.
The reasons for this process occurring in the IDF were not devised by the General Staff, but rather, are a reflection of the cultural reality of the radical secular population, and the fierce and escalating struggle over the religious and moral character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. Hence, the main arena of the conflict is not within the framework of the IDF, but rather, the setting for the struggle of the minds and identity of the Jewish population is in academia, the media, and in all educational and cultural institutions. What is worth noting, regretfully, is that senior officers in the IDF are unduly influenced by the radical secular positions. Within this framework, religious soldiers are forced to listen to female singers, as well as lectures whose nature runs contrary to Jewish beliefs transmitted for generations.
Not one official representative of the religious community sought to boycott or harm soldiers or officers with different opinions or beliefs, or people whose personal behavior is incompatible with the values of religious soldiers. All that the right-wing and traditional public demands is that there be no coercion of radical secular positions on IDF soldiers, and in view of that, not to accept radical feminist positions demanding total equality between men and women in all units, irrespective of traditional values of modesty, and also in flagrant violation of the rules of ‘Appropriate Integration’ (‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Ra’ui’) which, only a few years ago, were agreed upon and guaranteed by all parties of the military command.
Attitude towards the Enemy
The same holds true in the attitude towards the enemy. Senior military commanders such as the Deputy Chief of Staff have the audacity comparing – even if only by insinuation – IDF soldiers to Nazis. And when criticized for this, not only do they fail to apologize, but even continue encouraging officers to say things that are unacceptable to the public, namely, extreme anti-nationalistic positions. The Chief of Staff also caused severe damage with several utterances about Jewish tradition, national values, and the justness of our cause, such as his assertion that the phrase, “if a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first”, is nothing but an obsolete saying. Even as the public was faced with terrorist attacks in the streets, and one of the first questions concerning most people was: did they kill the terrorist? – the Chief of Staff saw fit to preach about saving terrorists from harm even when a certain amount of danger still existed, while insulting the public, who justifiably want to ‘rise early and kill first, someone who comes to kill them’.
The Attitude towards the Soldier, Elor Azarya
The most flagrant expression of the IDF leadership’s harmful position is its repulsive attitude towards the soldier Elor Azarya who, even if he erred in judgment in the middle of a life-threatening incident, is not an enemy, or a criminal. Nevertheless, IDF officials had the audacity to initially blame him for murder – the most severe charge, but now, when they realized that from a legal standpoint such a serious accusation is unjustified, they were kind enough to agree to settle for manslaughter. Not only that, but in a rare move the army enlisted a shrewd lawyer to successfully incriminate the nineteen year-old soldier with manslaughter. Why couldn’t they be satisfied with the usual military lawyers? Consequently, the Azarya family had to hire private lawyers as well, but the public at large who understood that the soldier Elor, even if he made a mistake, had fought on their behalf – raised more than six hundred thousand shekels within a few hours to finance his defense.
At the same time, the IDF top brass hurls ugly accusations at soldiers who they suspect of brutal and immoral behavior – identical to the positions of the extreme left. And it is not pleasant to say, but to a certain extent, similar to the positions of our enemies who accuse us of executing terrorists without trial, while in fact, these terrorists came with the intention of killing Jews – even if “only” with a knife or a pair of scissors, or if they were young.
The Struggle for the Character of the Media
Presently, the media is controlled by leftists, not because they are particularly talented, but also because for three generations the leftists have run the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and Galei Tzahal (army radio station), and also educate and train the next generation of broadcasters and journalists.
One might say that in recent times a number of privately-owned newspapers and regional radio stations have been launched. However, since they are private, their budget is relatively small. Except for ‘Yisrael HaYom’ (‘Israel Today’), which indeed has proven its iron hand to the rest of the newspapers, all the other media outlets funded by tens of millions of shekels a year must contend with the IBA whose budget is nearly a billion shekels a year, and Galei Tzahal which is financed by taxpayer’s money, and what’s more – receives for free to their ranks the most talented and ambitious youth for journalistic work – at the expense of the IDF. In such a situation, it is extremely difficult for private media outlets to compete with the public media organizations who, at the expense of the taxpayers continue promoting leftist positions, while increasing tensions in society and causing constant harm to the national and traditional public.
This is the situation in regards to the ongoing conflict with our Arab enemies, and in relation to Jewish values as well. For example, when the debate erupted about the appointment of the IDF Chief Rabbi, almost all of the broadcasters who’s salaries are paid from the public coffers, distorted and misrepresented his words – some intentionally, and others out of pitiful ignorance – and by doing so, disgraced the Torah and the mitzvah of ‘eshet yefat to’ar’ (a beautiful woman among the prisoners), failing to understand the moral depth this mitzvah represents. The same holds true in regards to debates concerning the LGBT parades.
The same applies to the Humanities and Social Sciences faculties in academia. For decades, with public funding of billions of shekels annually they have been controlled by leftists who nurture other leftists similar to themselves or even more radical, and deliberately obstruct the progress of people on the right, under the pretext that nationalistic and traditional worldviews run contrary to the spirit of academia.
It’s no wonder then that the number of students in the humanities is gradually declining. The views of the lecturers are so radical and repulsive there are hardly any young adults willing to listen to them without being nauseated.
The clearest expression of the public’s displeasure, including sane leftists, to the positions of the radical left, is the steady decline in the number of readers of the ‘Haaretz’ newspaper, to the point where its weekend readership totals only 4.3% of the public. Even ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’, which reflects secular views is also declining slowly but surely, with most of its readers finding interest in its colorful stories, despite its secular/leftist views.
It is important to emphasize that the intention is not to suppress leftists from expressing their views. We do not wish to retaliate or harm their civil rights, such as freedom of speech, creativity, and the right to demonstrate. Not just that, but undoubtedly among the extreme left there are many who have good intentions and numerous good deeds. Consequently, their contribution to society is essential, and we can learn from them as well, along the lines of our Sages statement: “Who is wise? He who learns from all men” (Avot, 4:1). Kal v’chomer (all the more so) with regards to intelligent and caring individuals, our Jewish brothers. And we agree with their allegations against the tyranny of the majority, but under no circumstances will we agree to accept the tyranny of the minority who, in order to strengthen their standing and continue ruling – in spite of being defeated in democratic elections – often enlists support among the Gentiles, and in some cases, doesn’t hesitate rallying support from our enemies as well.
The struggle, therefore, should be directed in the short-term to correcting the flaws in the IDF, preventing secular coercion by the radical left, and strengthening national values. And in the long-term, to promote the development of Torah-imbued and spirited people, both nationalistic and traditional Jews, for a significant change in the composition of leadership in the judicial system, in the broadcasting system, and in the humanities in academia, and also to prevent the continued dominance and coercion of the radical secular left.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: