There is an unprecedented increase in the number of political parties in Israel in the run up to the next General Election in March. This will be the fourth election in less than two years.
Perhaps the most prominent of these parties is Kahol Laffan founded by the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Khaldaei. He has been joined by Minister of Justice Avi Nissenkorn, who split from the Blue and White party and resigned from his post, and former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Israeli army, Major General Dan Harel.
On Monday, Khaldaei presented the outlines of Kahol Laffan’s programme. He made sure to let us know of his military service as a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, stressing that he participated in four wars launched by Israel and if that qualifies him to be affiliated with the right-wing, that would make him happy.
Of course, Khaldaei is not the first Israeli to enter politics and market himself through his military record, and he will not be the last. Israeli politics is full of former soldiers. Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, ended his military service as a captain, while Benny Gantz was Chief of the General Staff.
When Israel was founded in occupied Palestine in 1948, its first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, set the pattern for the PM to hold the defence portfolio as well. This lasted until the appointment of General Moshe Dayan as Defence Minister on the eve of the Six-Day War (1967). This was a turning point in two ways: the separation of the roles of prime minister and defence minister, and appointing a person with a significant military record as a minister in a civilian government.
The precedent set by Dayan has since become the norm. Former senior officers in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have held the position of defence minister on most occasions since 1967, in parallel with retired officers entering politics in greater numbers.
This has been controversial, raising a number of questions, the foremost of which is the dividing line between civilian and military attitudes and positions. To what extent do military personnel maintain and promote a military ideology after moving into civilian politics?
There are those who believe that a military officer will always be a military officer; rank is always retained beyond a certain level, even in retirement. Taking this into account, there is no doubt that it has great significance in Israel, and the common transfer of senior army officers to positions of political leadership is indicative of the militarisation of Israeli politics. Another question is whether former military personnel get involved in politics beyond their areas of expertise in an effort to increase the influence of the IDF.
This would suggest not that the army is relatively strong, but that civilian institutions in Israel are relatively weak, leaving a void for the military to fill. Many believe that the latter explains why Israeli politics is full of military connections.
Translated from Arab48, 13 January 2021, and edited for MEMO.
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