The adjustments that the Israel Defense Forces was required to make to move the nominally ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion from the West Bank to the Golan Heights – following numerous incidents in which soldiers from the unit beat Palestinians – constitute dereliction of the state’s duty to its citizens as a whole.
In keeping with an agreement between the IDF and rabbis dating from the battalion’s establishment and stipulating that female service members are prohibited from the unit’s camp, the female surveillance operators were moved to a nearby headquarters. However, not only the women were removed; Druze mess hall cooks were also moved from the base for the duration of the battalion’s stay, because its strict kashrut standards preclude non-Jews from handling the battalion’s food.
The Israel Women’s Network has already protested, but in my opinion it’s more important to focus on the latter “adjustment,” out of concern for the important civil alliance with Israel’s Druze minority, especially after the insult of the so-called nation-state law.
The story of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion should provoke public debate not only regarding the wisdom of insisting on drafting Haredim, but also due to the symbolic harm to the Druze cooks. Whereas the status of Jewish women as “owners” in the Jewish nation-state is protected, the removal from the kitchen of Druze cooks because their ritually impure hands cannot touch the food of Haredim removes the Druze from the Israeli camp, and adds insult to the injury of their exclusion from the collective identity by means of the nation-state law.
The inability to shape an Israeli identity that would give a sense of belonging to all of the country’s citizens, so that everyone, including members of non-Jewish minority groups, could be proud to be Israeli, is the No. 1 failure of Israeli sovereignty. And marring the sense of belonging of the only minority that has succeeded – through military service – to get as close as possible to Israeliness, inflicts substantial damage on the fragile civil fabric.
It is difficult to dispel the feeling that too many Israelis, consciously or unconsciously, hold to an ideal of a nation-state as a country that is completely homogenous, exactly like a ghetto; and an aspiration, spoken or silent, not only to a Jewish majority but to a state in which all its citizens are Jews.
According to this ideal, the existence of national minorities is perceived as a disturbance, a disruption, as a non-ideal realization of the nation-state. And as a consequence of this ideal, you can almost hear the hidden longing: Oh, if only there were no Arabs here, what a wonderful democracy we could have. A true state of all its citizens.
This week’s visit to the Temple Mount by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir was likewise not a display of governance, but rather a provocation and saber-rattling: There is a status quo that obligates Israel, and there is an agreement between countries that Israel must respect, and Ben-Gvir defiantly seeks to undermine both.
If Ben-Gvir wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, and he has partners in the government toward this end, he can advance such a change through discussion with all of the relevant parties, with the responsibility that is incumbent upon the sovereign power. Withdrawing from an agreement unilaterally, in a demonstrative and defiant manner, is a demonstration not of governance but rather of power. After all, declaring war is also a sovereign act. If you want to be responsible, then be responsible.