Talk about shooting the messenger: Danny Zamir, director of the Yitzhak Rabin military preparatory academy at Oranim College, organized a meeting of his graduates to discuss their experiences in Gaza. The resulting soldiers’ testimonies of cold-blooded murder of Gaza civilians have riveted Israeli attention for the past week. Ethan Bronner wrote a N.Y. Times Week in Review story about them as well.
But Zamir’s efforts haven’t sat well with a certain patriotic constituency within Israeli society, one that sees the IDF as a sacred national institution that is beyond reproach. Though I’m sure Zamir didn’t expect to be lionized for his efforts, he probably didn’t expect to be vilified either.
Not only have Israelis accused him of smearing the IDF, they’ve accused him of aiding and abetting the nation’s enemies who are only waiting to pounce upon such stories to justify their hatred of Israel. The IDF itself initiated this campaign by revealing that Zamir had been imprisoned briefly in the 1990s when he refused to guard a settler group holding a provocative religious ceremony at Joseph’s Tomb. They attempted to shoot the messenger.
The campaign also took the form of attacks like this one (Hebrew) in the Israeli right-wing press. Assaf Oron also notes that one person in the online comment thread falsely claimed the testimonies had been debunked. Another IDF regiment commander claimed the stories were unsubstantiated after little more than a quick internal inquiry. Assaf’s rejoinder is telling:
Well, that settles it. The IDF never lies. Only dirty leftists do.
Zamir himself seems to be a throwback to an earlier era in the IDF when officers wrestled with moral and political dilemmas. When they strove not just to fight, but to understand why they were fighting. It’s important to hear his portrayal of his motives for airing the testimonies:
For some reason, many of those who responded angrily to the failures depicted in the soldiers’ stories connected our project to a leftist worldview or to opposition to military service.
The demand to uncover any failures of the army’s ethical code during the Gaza operation must never be seen as “against” the IDF. Precisely the opposite [is the case]. This is an act that derives from a sense of responsibility for, and full participation in what happens within the army, which is, after all, composed of all of us.
The claims that the mass media exposure of the acts of our soldiers will serve as lighter fluid in the hands of Israel haters is unjustified. Israel haters don’t require such material [to peddle their hate]. On the contrary, an innocent Arab civilian grappling with Israel’s image, seeing the forthright discussion surrounding this episode will see before him a living, breathing democratic society struggling with its failures.
…Enough lies and hatred. Morality is strength, not weakness.
Unfortunately, the Danny Zamirs of Israeli society have largely been passed over by historical events. The high standards and moral values he attempts to uphold have been trashed by so many within the army itself and the political echelons. But we must still appreciate the heroic efforts made by such as him to uphold a sense of national decency and honor in the midst of fighting a war. If Israel had more of him it might not be in the quagmire it is in.
It isn’t surprising that in the midst of such smears and pressure that Zamir appears to equivocate about the value of the Gaza war itself. It seems almost a sop to his Israeli opponents that he concedes basic elements of anti-Hamas propaganda (such as the claim they they use human shields). In truth, and this is a weakness of Zamir’s approach, he is less interested in the question of whether the war should have been fought than in HOW that war was fought. A man of his word, as limited as that might sometimes be, he tells us his chief concern is for the IDF itself and he leaves the more difficult political questions to others.