In June 2013, Israeli journalist Ben Caspit, who writes for Maariv and Al Monitor’s Israel Pulse, interviewed IDF refuser and Yesh Gvul activist Ishay Menuchin about the case of Natan Blank. Blank had spent a total of 170 days during ten different imprisonments in military jail before the army finally released him. Caspit, a right-wing reporter (who actually says in the interview that he’s a “leftist”), takes Menuchin to task for his refusal to serve.
There’s nothing unusual about any of this so far. But where it really gets hinky is when Caspit tells Menuchin that his principles “drive him crazy,” and that he and Blank are “criminals” who he would “murder” if he had his way:
Ishay, hold on. I’m not a rightist. I’m opposed to the Occupation as well. But why should I do three years [IDF service] and you not? This drives me out of my mind! If they’d let me, I’d beat the shit out of you [literally “strike murderous blows”]. This drives me crazy! You’re sawing off the branch that all of us are sitting on!
A few notes about the errors and inconsistencies of Caspit’s claims. First, neither Blank nor Menuchin got to sit out their military service in a villa. They each went to prison. Blank for six months. Military prison is not a picnic. Second, Menuchin in the interview points out that fully 50% of all eligible youth do not serve. Many get exemptions. If they are Haredi they get a yeshiva exemption. There are also mental health exemptions which others pursue. So singling out refusers as if they are the only ones shirking their duty is blatantly false.
It’s also laughable for Caspit to claim he is not a rightist. Anyone reading his contributions to Israel Pulse could tell he’s a garden variety center-rightist. So he doesn’t like Bibi. Plenty of rightists don’t like Bibi. That doesn’t make them moderates, let alone leftists. There is also this crazy impulse among right-wingers like Caspit to make extravagant claims about the liberality of their views when debating leftists. What sad about it is that in any other country Caspit would be a right-winger. But due to the extreme right-wing dominance of Israeli politics, Caspit can make a reasonable claim to being a moderate, when he’s anything but.
It’s of course common for the average Israeli to express detestation for leftist refusers, to call them traitors, throw curses their way, etc. But I’ve never heard anyone, even the scummiest right-wing thug in online forums like Rotter, call for their murder.
Caspit not only expressed violent tendencies toward Menuchin, when the latter told the journalist that the reason he and Blank refused military service was that the entire IDF is an army of Occupation whose purpose was to oppress the Palestinian people, Caspit summarily ended the interview without offering Menuchin an opportunity of reply.
The final paragraph of the article about the interview is instructive since it concedes that Israel is not a democracy and cannot afford to allow conscience-stricken refusers in its midst since they endanger the State:
The Israeli Defense Forces are the army of all of us despite the fact that many of us forget this. Pacifist views like these are more appropriate in democratic countries. But when an Israeli citizen chooses the “easy way,” fleeing from his obligations and insulting the values on which the State is founded, even if they’re sometimes difficult for one or the other of us to stomach, he defies and angers both right and left. Because the IDF, so the Menuchin interview proved, is the army of us all.
This incident now takes on added significance because over forty reservists in from the IDF’s elite cyber-warfare Unit 8200 also wrote a joint letter saying their jobs involved violating moral principles and their consciences. They refused any service that involved supporting the Occupation. As a result, the chief of staff dismissed them all from future service.
It’s one thing to want to kill a refuser like Blank or Menuchin, but I wonder if Caspit would also want to kill those serving in one of the IDF’s most elite units?
I asked Caspit for any statement he wished to offer in this post. Eventually, he wrote me this:
1) The said Radio talk show is a Howard Stern-like show infused with satire and irreverence.
My co-host and I yell, interrupt, mock and deride each other as part of the show and listeners know and expect this when they tune in.
2) Therefore, any attempt to ascribe to me thuggish and violent (verbal or otherwise) tendencies or recommendations misses the point. I’m sure you are familiar with that type of radio or TV discourse. It is a show. Furthermore, not only have I never preached or advocates or condoned such behavior, in fact I am a victim of one, directed at me by no other PM Netanyahu’s office and Mr. Netanyahu himself for dedication to the peace process and my frequent revelations of inappropriate excesses in his office, home and public demeanor.
3) As for the specific issue itself: Israeli society is built on a contract between its diverse components. Men, at 18 are under universal obligation to serve 3 years in the IDF. If, for reasons of pacifism, religion, unsuitability or any other an individual is unwilling or incapable of serving, there are alternative ways of sharing the burden. Failure to do so or evading it altogether is an act of selfishness and unfairness.
His reply is utter nonsense. First, I listened to his interview with Menuchin and heard the tone he used during it both with Menuchin and his female “sidekick.” Either Caspit hasn’t ever listened to Howard Stern or else he’s lying about his own show. He never yelled during the entire interview, even when he said he wanted to beat the shit out of Menuchin. In fact, several times in this article it uses the term “balanced” or “restrained” to describe Caspit’s normal demeanor on air.
As for mocking and deriding, he did none of that toward his sidekick as he claimed. That was directed solely at Menuchin, who I’ve since learned was deeply troubled by the attacks on him. Apparently, Caspit’s argument is that because he tells every guest and his sidekick that he wants to beat the shit out of them, it’s OK to say the same to Menuchin. All of which is utter nonsense of course.
In his second paragraph, the argument continues that his threat of physical violence was theatrical, rather than real. Further, he lies saying he’s never “preached or advocated or condoned” physical violence, when in fact he used precisely such a phrase against Menuchin. Does he think his readers don’t take to heart his words? Or that they treat him like a clown and laugh at him?
In his last paragraph, Caspit falsifies the reality of Israeli military service. The so-called “universal obligation” is anything but. Even Menuchin pointed out during the interview that only half of those eligible actually serve. There are also far more reasons for “unsuitability” than he lists, one of the chief among them being non-Jewish. Non-Jews (cf. Palestinians) are neither asked, nor expected to serve as their loyalty is held suspect. As for their being alternatives to military service, perhaps this is true in theory. But almost no Israeli refusers have ever been offered the alternative of alternative service. Finally, the act of refusing to serve an evil system of Occupation; upholding the principle that Israeli Jews should not kill Palestinians in the service of an injustice and military oppression–there are neither selfish nor unfair principles. They are indeed sacred principle worthy going to prison for. Anyone who goes to prison for these principles is, the opposite of selfish.
Contrast Caspit’s response to that of Albert Einstein, who wrote this to a Swiss war resister in 1931:
“Let me express my respect for your courage and integrity. One man who is brave enough to refuse military service serves mankind better than thousands who do what they conceive to be their normal duty. A man like yourself acts as a grain of sand in a machine. It is my hope that by means of such grains of sand the war machine will be destroyed or, at least, a degrading system of conscription will be abolished.”
After reading this, imagine for a second Ben Caspit beating the crap out of Albert Einstein. There you have my view of such Israeli chauvinism.
Finally, as those of you who read me regularly know, I’ve railed against the Israel Pulse section of Al Monitor for a long time. The notion that they would publish an Israeli journalist who says he would brutally assault military refusers if could do so, is an outrage. Iftach Shavit, an Israeli activist, wrote to Al Monitor at the time this interview was aired and complained about Caspit’s comments. No one responded.
H/t Iftach Shavit.