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Israel students refuse to serve in military under 'fascist' government

September 4, 2023 at 8:36 pm

An aerial view of Israeli protesters marching ‘for judicial independence’ after the coalition government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu passed the controversial ‘judicial reform’ law in parliament, as they carry the banner condemning him and his wife Sara Netanyahu at the Kaplan Street, in Tel Aviv, Israel in Tel Aviv, Israel on September 2, 2023 [Yair Palti/Anadolu Agency]

A group of over 200 Israeli students have announced their refusal to be drafted into the army, citing the rise of “fascism “and dictatorship under the new far-right government.

In a letter displayed at a protest in Tel Aviv, the students said they “will not draft until democracy is guaranteed to everyone who lives under Israeli rule.” 

The signatories are mostly high school seniors about to be conscripted. They launched an organisation called “Youth Against Dictatorship” to oppose what they call growing “fascism” in Israel and Occupation of Palestinian Territories.

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“We decided that we cannot, in good faith, serve a bunch of fascist settlers that are in control of the government right now,” said the students. They accused the government of ceding control to fascist settlers intent on deepening West Bank Occupation and apartheid.

The students described how recent events have opened their eyes to the connection between the brutal subjugation of Palestinians and assault on democracy. One 18-year-old graduate said that the controversial judicial overhaul “opened their eyes politically, in general, making them think about the Occupation, and how they don’t want to serve in an occupying military.” She went on to say that you cannot separate the judicial overhaul and the Occupation. 

The teens hope to win more of their peers over to the cause, even though they are likely to pay a high price for their stance. One of the students named Sophie noted that her next step is a stay in military prison for her refusal to serve, which will begin in November. Still, she noted that the discourse is changing.

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“I think there’s undoubtedly a trend, thanks to the reservists’ refusal to serve as well and, hopefully, because of this event, that the word ‘refusal’ itself has even become more mainstream. It’s still treated like a dirty word, but it’s being spoken,” Sophie is reported saying in the Haaretz.

Polls show rising support for refusal among Israeli youth. Critics accuse Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of undermining democratic institutions to evade prosecution on corruption charges. Students now refusing to serve say they cannot, in good conscience, join an army overseen by leaders with totalitarian aspirations.