The Knesset Loses a Philosopher

Haim Watzman It’s a ritual that Israel observes before every election. One or more highly-qualified exemplars of what an Israeli parliamentarian lose out in their party primaries or decide, in disgust or exasperation, not to run again. This year’s latest victim is Isaac Ben-Israel, MK for the Kadima Party. In an interview with Ari Shavit … Read moreThe Knesset Loses a Philosopher

The IDF: All Conscripts, All Volunteers, Or Something In Between?

Haim Watzman

One of Israel’s least-known secrets is that it no longer has a people’s army. I don’t say best-kept secret because no one is trying to keep it a secret. It’s a secret simply because it so clashes with the country’s mythology, and with the image it projects, that many of its own citizens and boosters prefer not to think about it.

But the question of whether the process by which the Israel Defense Forces has become less and less broad-based and more and more professional should be encouraged or decried is the subject of lively debate in the academic community. Most of the speakers at today’s  conference on the subject sponsored by Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies sought to dispel some of the more hoary parts of the myth and to suggest that the old model of an army in which everyone serves might not be the only or best option for Israel today.

Keep in mind-this myth-bashing and iconoclasm was sponsored by Bar-Ilan, probably the most conservative, patriotic academic redoubt in Israel. We’re not talking about a group of effete post-Zionists but rather about academics solidly in the political and cultural mainstream.

Read moreThe IDF: All Conscripts, All Volunteers, Or Something In Between?

Tough Love: Israel And Its Army

Haim Watzman

Big news: public trust in the Israel Defense Forces dropped a full three percentage points in the last year. Now only 71 percent of Israelis (all Israelis, including non-Jews) trust their army, as opposed to 74 percent last year. The figures come from the Israel Democracy Institute’s annual Democracy Index. I would guess that the generals are not exactly quaking in their boots. But given the damning criticism of the army included in the Winograd Report (available in Hebrew here) on the Second Lebanon War, issued earlier this year, it’s rather surprising that the IDF remains so popular. Or is it?

In fact, the army remains far more popular than every other public institution in the country. Only 35 percent trust the Supreme Court (a drop of 12 points), only 17 percent the prime minister, only 37 percent the media.

Does this mean that Israel is a modern Prussia, taking glory in the macho military values embodied in its armed forces? Not exactly. Israelis are hardly alone in admiring their fighting men. In fact, armies tend to be wildly popular institutions in most countries. I recall an essay by Jorge Luis Borges (I can’t find the specific reference right now) in which he explained the central place of the army in the society of Argentina and the admiration in which it was held-despite that army’s penchant for staging coups d’etat and pushing those who don’t admire it out of airplanes.

Read moreTough Love: Israel And Its Army

Socks and the Man

Israel Independence Day is coming up next week, and I’m feeling very patriotic. So I went out this morning and bought $93 worth of socks for the Israel Defense Forces.

Often, however, I have to buy the socks without the inspiration. Every month I shell out sums like this for hats, scarfs, t-shirts, underwear and other gear that the IDF does not supply to its soldiers. And socks. My son is in combat training in a commando unit, so he goes through a lot of them.

Read moreSocks and the Man