Mensches say no to militarism – SAJFP calls on South African Jews not to serve in the IDF

“I think that for 70 years we’ve been seeing the same policy of occupation, of siege and of Jewish supremacy between the river and the sea, and I can’t take part in it.” – Tal Mitnick

Tal Mitnick, the first Israeli to refuse to serve in the IDF’s war on Gaza, is currently serving a second 30-day stint in jail. Despite being ridiculed by many in the Israeli public, he has remained steadfast in his beliefs, refusing to jeopardise “a future of coexistence where both Israelis and Palestinians can live together and live with security and peace.” As South African Jews, we aspire to follow his example and reject a violent status quo that masquerades as “Jewish togetherness” while, in reality, pushing peace-loving Jews to the fringes of our community and rejecting the pursuit of social justice embedded in tikkun olam, the Judaic practice calling upon us to “repair the world”.

In our own community, Mitnick’s story brings to mind the Zionist Cape Town school, Herzlia’s refusal to host Shministim — Israeli conscientious objectors — fearing it could fuel anti-Israel sentiment. In contrast, Israeli security personnel are allowed into Jewish schools, where students are being taught about Israel in a curriculum that deliberately erases Palestinian history and seeks to portray Israel in an idealistic light. In line with this, immigrating to Israel and serving in the IDF is seen as a noble idea, as illustrated by a recent report in the Middle East Eye.

As Jews whose history is marked by discrimination and fear, we refuse to take part in inflicting further trauma on Palestinians and hope that young Jewish South Africans can see beyond the propaganda pushed by community leaders. We therefore implore them to witness the testimonies of thousands of Israeli soldiers from Breaking the Silence to grasp the horrors of occupation.

Unlike Tal, South African Jews are not forced to join the IDF. In fact, South Africans are expressly forbidden from joining the IDF under the Regulation of the Foreign Military Assistance Act 15 of 1998. Any person who joins the IDF can be prosecuted for fighting in a war that South Africa does not support. With International Court of Justice (ICJ) affirming that the IDF’s actions plausibly amount to genocide, it is clear that we must break free from the indoctrination fed to us from childhood and refuse to enlist. In doing so, we uphold our commitment to tzedek — which means “justice” and is the root and core of tzedakah — and an equitable future for all.