For eight years, Jonathan Ben Artzi, nephew of Bibi Netanyahu, has battled the IDF, refusing to serve in the army. He is a conscientious objector recognized by Amnesty International. However, the Israeli army refuses to recognize pacifism as a legitimate category for exemption from service. It saw his refusal as a deliberate flouting of its authority over all Israeli youth who are required to serve a 3-year term in the army. Those officers who sentenced Ben Artzi to eight months in military prison believed that his unpunished refusal might encourage others to follow him. Though why the brass believe anyone in their right mind would chose to emulate a boy who gave eight months of his life to prison and eight years to fighting this case–is beyond me.
Ben Artzi’s case got as high as the Israeli Supreme Court, which actually ruled on elements of it four different times over the eight years. In the final hearing, it made its squeamishness known about sentencing Ben Artzi to further prison time. The IDF got the message and settled the case on terms highly favorable to Ben Artzi. His parents, who supported him during his entire legal campaign, circulated these messages to his supporters:
Yoni’s legal battle is over! Those of you who wish to get more details–we’ll be happy to provide (the final agreement is being translated to English). However, at this point we choose to forward Yoni’s own words.
We are very very grateful for your help, support and moral encouragement,
Ofra and Matania Ben-Artzi.
Victory in court
After Supreme Court judges Beinish, Levi and Meltzer expressed their discomfort with having to send me to prison now, 8 years after the whole saga began, the military was forced into an agreement with us, in which they admit defeat: the agreement states that I will not have to serve any time in prison, only having two months of probation, and that I remain loyal to my pacifist views. This is a major blow to a prosecution that started this whole thing with a goal of sending me (like the five[other refusers]) to at least one year in prison.
Thanks to all those who have supported me throughout these years – it was an invaluable help!
Ben Artzi’s case is important not only because of his refusal to serve, which is a deeply stigmatized view within Israeli society. It is also important because 50% of Israeli youth find other means of refusing to serve. As Colin Urquart’s Guardian article notes, this is called “grey resistance,” because these individuals disguise their refusal in more socially acceptable grounds including psychiatric deferments or leaving the country. The rate of refusal is ever increasing which indicates a growing recognition among the young that military service is no longer the vaunted national ideal it once was. Israel’s 40 Occupation of the Palestinian people and its disastrous war in Lebanon have caused the young to lose their appetite for the ‘glory’ of fulfilling their duty to their country.
All those who find themselves unsympathetic to Ben Artzi should consider that he is no shirker. Besides the fact that his father’s sister is married to Bibi Netanyahu, a number of his close relatives have died or been severely wounded serving the country going all the way back the War of Independence. Netanyahu freely accepts an obligation to do alternative service under civilian auspices. But he will not accept the IDF’s authority over him.
Currently, he is a grad student in mathematics at Brown University.
For more background on Ben Artzi’s case read:
Netanyahu nephew faces jail as army refusenik
I Realized the Stupidity of It (interview)
Thanks to Cecilie Surasky of Muzzlewatch for forwarding the family e mail to me.
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