IDF Unit 8200 Commander Expels Refusers
A few months ago, Israel and the world was stunned by 43 members of the IDF’s elite intelligence Unit 8200, who protested their military service, which was being used to blackmail and disrupt Palestinian society. They had joined 8200 to serve as its eyes and ears in protecting the nation from enemies who meant it real harm. But they hadn’t signed up to find out which Palestinian leaders were gay or cheating on their wives or whose family members had terminal illnesses–all of which could be exploited to sow dissension in Palestine or provide an opening for recruiting spies. They also objected to the secrecy under which their intelligence information was gathered, complaining that Palestinian security detainees could not examine or question it when it was used against them in judicial processes.
One of their main criticisms was that there was no system of civilian review of their activities. They were essentially given free rein to pursue whatever they wished in whatever way they wished. This led to major breaches of ethics according to the refusers. It seems that intelligence and morality are diametrical opposites. The only constraints upon Israeli intelligence are what they can get away with. And in Israel, unlike the U.S., it’s almost anything.
These braves soldiers linked the deterioration in the mission of their Unit to the nation’s refusal to come to terms with the Palestinian conflict. They closed their statement with a call for reform and review of both the procedures of Unit 8200 and policies of the State toward Palestine.
Today, 8200’s commander, Brig. Gen. Ehud Schneerson , whose identity I first exposed here a few months ago (it is censored in Israeli media), made his response. Instead of considering the validity of the protest, he summarily dismissed all 43 members (all of whom were on reserve duty), deeming them harmful to the morale of the army, and soldiers who’d violated the chain of command by going public with their criticism. His letter to the refusers only continues the charade of excuses offered by defenders of 8200:
[In publishing your letter], you made an error. You crossed a fine line that separates politics from military service. This is a line of separation that enables us to within the Unit to continue to supply high-quality intelligence to the branches of the army and the government of Israel.
The entire point of the letter was to say that it was Unit 8200 which was being politicized to advance the hard-right political objectives of the Likud government. To say the dissenters had brought politics into the IDF is ludicrous since politics were ingrained in 8200. This is the very same critique made against the CIA when it found WMD in Iraq that wasn’t there at the behest of the Cheney cabal. The other more general criticisms offered by the signers of the letter also find echo in Edward Snowden’s attack on the NSA and its invasive intelligence practices.
Schneerson’s response, of course, was not unexpected. Just as Israelis themselves bristle when dissidents from within or outside offer new paradigms for restructuring Israeli society or politics, so the national security apparatus remains hidebound in clinging to its outdated ways. Both groups seem to think that things are proceeding well enough and refuse to listen to any voices that come from outside a narrow consensus.
Former Aman chief Amos Yadlin, who is running for Knesset on the Labor list, approved the expulsions which, again, is as expected. He even called the mission of 8200, “holy work saving the lives of Israeli citizens.” This inferred that the dissenters were traitors who whether intentionally or unintentionally damaged the Unit and endangered Israel by doing so.
In Israel, you may argue around the edges of politics or security. But you may not question fundamentals. And the notion that Israel is pursuing the wrong security goals is treif. It will get you expelled from the army and from polite [Israeli] society.
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I quote from André Schwarz-Bart’s novel The Last of the Just (that in its original French version won the Prix Goncourt):
“…one must be aware of the ancient Jewish tradition of the Lamed-waf, a tradition that certain Talmudists trace back to the source of the centuries, to the mysterious times of the prophet Isaiah. Rivers of blood have flowed, columns of smoke have obscured the sky; but surviving all these dooms, the tradition has remained inviolate down to our own times. According to this tradition the world reposes upon thirty-six Just Men, the Lamed-waf, indistinguishable from simple mortals; often, they do not recognise themselves. But if even one of them were lacking, the sufferings of mankind would poison even the souls of the new-born, and humanity would suffocate with a single cry.”
Happily there are in this case somewhat more than thirty-six.
@ Arie Brand: That’s a wonderful modern midrash you’ve created there!
@Arie – I actually like this comparison to ל”ו צדיקים נסתרים. Now, if only there were more of them, maybe Meretz had some effect of Israeli politics.
If you haven’t watched it, I recommand Matzav Hauma with Zehava Gal’on. http://reshet.tv/Shows/matzav_hauma/videomarklist,237459/
@ Ariel: Meretz will never save the nation. It is almost as much a part of the problem as Labor and all the other liberal Zionist parties.
“Just as Israelis themselves bristle when dissidents from within or outside offer new paradigms for restructuring Israeli society or politics, so the national security apparatus remains hidebound in clinging to its outdated ways ”
So Israelis reacted the pretty much the same why that Americans did, a la Snowden and Manning, except Snowden is on the lam and Manning is in prison.
Doesn’t that make Israelis normal, and not aberrant?
BTW. Former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling was just convicted of leaking secrets to a reporter.
@ krausen: Not at all. American political & intelligence officials reacted with outrage to Snowden & Manning. But if you spent a few minutes scanning social media searching for Snowden or Manning you’d find a huge outpouring of support for them in the U.S. There is no such outpouring for the Unit 8200 refusers in Israel. They are outcasts, hated (though abroad they have much more support, not that this helps them). That does make Israelis national security obsessives and a garrison state.
Sterling’s conviction is a schandeh. Neither I, nor any real progressive would ever vote for him again if we had a choice. It’s the reason I won’t support Hillary as well since I know she’d do the same thing.
“there is no such outpouring for the Unit 8200 refusers in Israel. ”
And why would there be an outpouring? None of the refuseniks have been jailed. They’ve merely been relieved of their reserve duties, a mild rebuke compared to what’s befallen Snowden, Manning and Sterling.
Please show me where the Unit 8200 refuseniks are ‘hated’. I don’t think most Israelis have strong feelings about these refuseniks. I think most Israelis are quite blase about this affair.
@krausen: There wouldn’t be an outpouring of support because Israel is not a democracy. It doesn’t support free speech, nor respect human or civil rights. It doesn’t value whistleblowers. It doesn’t value transparency. Its values are precisely the opposite of all these.
The difference betwenn the 8200 refusers & Snowden, Manning, etc. is that the latter actually exposed secrets. You saw what happened to Jeffrey Sterling who exposed embarrassing secrets of the CIA. If anyone in 8200 did anything like that they’d be in prison for life after a secret trial. If you were there friend, you might never see them again. That’s the difference between a democracy and whatever Israel is.
If you don’t think the refusers are hated you didn’t read the statements in the media about them.
“If anyone in 8200 did anything like that they’d be in prison for life after a secret trial.”
How do you know that? How do you back that up?
Prisoner X was an operational Mossad agent who was convicted at a secret trial and sentenced to under 20 years.
What Israeli ever received a life sentence for leaking military secrets? Not Anat Kam, who plea bargained and was given a light sentence.
I don’t understand what your taking about.
@ krausen: Anat Kamm was disappeared by the Shin Bet and then imprisoned for four years for whistleblowing. Markus Klingberg was disappeared, tried in secret and imprisoned for 10 years. He was serving a life term & only released as part of a prisoner exchange. Vanunu is serving virtual life sentence of house arrest. Ben Zygier was disappeared and facing 20 years in prison before he committed suicide. Dirar Abusisi was kidnapped, disappeared, and hasn’t even been tried and is in prison for five years as part of a frame-up by Hamas which the Shin Bet is too embarrassed to admit. I’ve documented numerous Palestinian detainees like Ameer Makhoul sentenced to long prison terms for engaging in activity that is not criminal in any other western nation.
Your problem is you take everything literally. A sentence of 20 years for a many who is 50 years old IS a life sentence.
Let’s not forget they wrote “they don’t want to continue and be part…” when according to the army the last one of them served in 2009 (http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/622/470.html?hp=1&cat=875&loc=1) which means it is indeed purely political. I haven’t seen anywhere the refusniks reputed that fact.
With that said, I wish them SAYONARA.
@ Ariel: I always mistrust hasbarists with ellipses. What you left out is that they refused to participate in illegal blackmail against Palestinians. There is, of course, much more that 8200 does than blackmail Palestinians. Those jobs the refusers were happy to do. They were reservists & so were willing to continue that service under those terms.
I detest when someone like you merely states an opinion as declarative fact without offering a scintilla of proof. So you’ve offered no proof that their opposition is political. And I have no idea what fact that they didn’t ‘repute’ (you mean “dispute”).
@Richard – I provided a link where Ye’elon states it was political and I don’t need to rewrite what you clearly mentioned in your article.
“Sterling’s conviction is a schandeh ”
He got a fair trial, didn’t he?
Sterling went through the proper channels and legally reported his misgiving to Senate Intelligence Committee staffers. Sterling later broke the law by leaking the Iran nuclear equipment story to the press.
@ krausen: Instead of arguing with me, read the story I linked. It will explain the circumstances under which he became a whistleblower. When you don’t read the original story you look like a fool, which I assume you want to do.
When a federal employee blows the whistle on a fraudulent, dangerous, illegal scheme by a federal agency he should be protected and honored and not thrown in prison. If you go through proper channels & no one pays attention in a democracy (unlike your country) you have an obligation as a citizen to blow the whistle to the public.
“When a federal employee blows the whistle on a fraudulent, dangerous, illegal scheme by a federal agency he should be protected..”
First, Snowden HAD protection under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998. Unlike Jeffrey Sterling, Snowden did not attempt to go through channels pursuant to the Act.
“Had Mr. Snowden taken his information to the House or Senate intelligence committees, that would clearly not have violated the Espionage Act,”.
“And if it did, his conduct would have been protected by the more recent 1998 whistleblower statute.”
Second. Your link refers to Snowden, not Sterling, so you still haven’t explained how the Sterling conviction is ‘a schandeh’.
A small correction.
Former Aman chief Amos Yadlin joined the labor party led by Herzog. He is not running though, if (and it’s a big if) labor will lead a new government he is groomed to be next defense minister.
Former Gen. Yoav Galant is the one running on Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Party.
I was in the US Army , an outfit named Army Security Agency. We had a moto in God we trust all others we monitor