Religious nationalism in the Israeli military

In this earlier post,I noted the debate that has arisen in Israel regarding the influence on the Israeli military by religious nationalists.

Ethan Bronner has more on this in today’s NY Times.  A portion is excerpted below:

For the first four decades of Israel’s existence, the army — like many of the country’s institutions — was dominated by kibbutz members who saw themselves as secular, Western and educated. In the past decade or two, religious nationalists, including many from the settler movement in the West Bank, have moved into more and more positions of military responsibility. (In Israeli society, they are a growing force, distinct from, and more modern than, the black-garbed ultra-Orthodox, who are excused from military service.)

In many cases, the religious nationalists have ascended to command positions from precisely the kind of premilitary college course that Mr. Zamir runs — but theirs are run by the religious movements rather than his secular one, meaning that the competition between him and them is both ideological and careerist.

“The officer corps of the elite Golani Brigade is now heavily populated by religious right-wing graduates of the preparatory academies,” noted Moshe Halbertal, a Jewish philosophy professor who co-wrote the military code of ethics and who is himself religiously observant but politically liberal. “The religious right is trying to have an impact on Israeli society through the army.”

…Those who oppose the religious right have been especially concerned about the influence of the military’s chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, who is himself a West Bank settler and who was very active during the war, spending most of it in the company of the troops in the field.

He took a quotation from a classical Hebrew text and turned it into a slogan during the war: “He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.”

A controversy then arose when a booklet handed out to soldiers was found to contain a rabbinical edict against showing the enemy mercy. The Defense Ministry reprimanded the rabbi.

Update: Ha’aretz has a related piece today here though this piece, at least, doesn’t wade into the religious aspect very bravely.

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