Last week, a story on the NRG website (Hebrew), part of the Israel Today group, reported that the National Service Administration is redefining the conditions for receiving national service volunteers and that a list of “left-wing organizations” that are set to lose their national service placements is “currently being published”.
About 17,000 young Israelis are now doing their national service, as an alternative to military service, in a variety of institutions and organizations around the country. The placements slated for removal are no more than a few dozen. This is not simply a reform. It is not about eligibility for national service placements. It is about labeling and excluding – as a first step toward delegitimizing – civil society organizations. To put it more bluntly – this is political persecution.
Gisha, like other organizations that appear on this list, would be able to manage without a national service volunteer, but through the program, we came to know three impressive young people who joined our public department over the years. Together with us, they studied Israel’s restrictive access policy on Gaza, worked to assess its cost and get the information out to the public in order to clarify the senselessness and danger of this policy – and yes – also its infringement on human rights. It is reasonable to assume that their choice to do their national service at Gisha correlated to their worldview, including a willingness to view government decisions critically out of a concern for and commitment to a better future. They chose this path, despite the fact that there were, presumably, more comfortable ways and places to spend these years.
Grossly labelling a slew of organizations, with a variety of goals and agendas, and marking them as “undermining the very existence of the state” is beyond deceitful. It reveals a desire to undercut diversity of opinion in Israeli society, to silence legitimate criticism, to prevent public debate over matters of – there is no way of saying this without drama – life and death. Just as a small example, during the 51 days that Operation Protective Edge wreaked havoc in the Gaza Strip, two-thirds of Israel’s residents were under rocket fire. The current calm is merely temporary as long as there is no progress toward identifying long-term solutions; so long as Israel does not back its leaders’ rhetoric about how recovery in Gaza is necessary and useful with actual change on the ground.
Make no mistake. The battle is not for national service spots in organizations, be they “left”, “right”, or “center” or whatever those labels mean. The fight is for the very foundation of democracy in Israel: freedom of expression, the rights of minorities, representation for disempowered groups and public scrutiny of government decisions. Human rights are the rights of us all: Jews, Arabs, men, women, children and the elderly. Without them, there is no life, no security, and no future.