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To serve and protest

Unit 8200 mutineers get a shellacking in the press, though some say critics shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss their protest

Soldiers from the 8200 Unit in training (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Soldiers from the 8200 Unit in training (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The weekend revelation that 43 veteran members of Intelligence unit 8200 — one of the most storied groups in Israel’s military — were refusing to serve in the territories over ideological grounds sent shockwaves through the press over the weekend, and as Sunday dawned over the front pages of Israel’s Hebrew newspapers, it seemed clear the affair was just getting its feet wet.

“We reservists in 8200 are ashamed of our refuser brothers,” reads the main headline of Yedioth Ahronoth, putting an exclamation point on the heavy criticism, covered in all three dailies, that the group has been subjected to since its letter came out.

The paper, which published the letter by the 43 in its Friday edition, follows up with a whip-crack of a statement by 200 other reservists who, well, you read the headline.

“We alumni of Unit 8200, soldiers in the past and present, wish to express shock, disgust and utter repudiation of the unfortunate letter by our comrades in the unit,” the counter-letter begins and doesn’t get any cheerier from there.

In Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit jumps on the opprobrium-wagon, spanking the refusers for their “spoiled protest” and pretty much accusing the 43 of being in league with Hamas: “For 14 years, Unit 8200 has defended my friend Aharon Peretz, who has absorbed rockets in the center of Sderot and has not run away. And also my beloveds, who risked their lives during the war by going into tunnels in Gaza so the terrorists couldn’t emerge in the hearts of Nahal Oz, or Sufa or Kfar Aza. Yet a tiny portion of the rich kids of the unit don’t want to take part, and we don’t have to force them.”

Despite the blowback, Yedioth’s Shimon Shiffer says the country should not take the easy way out by ignoring what these 43 reservists are trying to say.

“There are those who will say this is a group of spoiled reservists serving under better conditions who just ‘discovered’ the occupation. But I suggest not downplaying this discovery. Decision makers should stand before the signatories and explain why after 45 years of controlling the lives of Palestinians there hasn’t been found a way to separate from them or live with them,” he writes.

There’s a fat chance of that happening, given the response of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who called the letter an attempt to harm the unit’s activities, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s non-response that the group would continue to do important work.

Yet Haaretz, which notes both, also records the backing given the group by lefty NGO Yesh Gvul, which released a statement criticizing Netanyahu and Ya’alon for “on one hand thanking the soldiers of Unit 8200 for their professional work, and on the other hand forcing them to continue carrying out war crimes.”

The paper’s Gideon Levy calls the unit the Stasi, and is beside himself with joy over the “mutiny” of some of its members. “As long as the members of Unit 8200 were up to their arms in the filth of the occupation, they were considered principled young men and women, and were respected,” he writes. “But as soon as they decided they’d had enough, they became targets for ridicule and ostracism. The step they have taken is a milestone. In their footsteps, perhaps, a few veterans of the Shin Bet security service – the other pillar of the Israeli Stasi in the territories – will also come forward and finally talk about what they did at work.”

Begging pardon

War crimes, sex crimes, it’s all pretty bad, but that hasn’t stopped convicted sex criminal and former president Moshe Katsav from asking for a pardon again after striking out with Shimon Peres.

This time, Yedioth reports, he’s trying his luck with newly minted successor Reuven Rivlin. The paper points out, though, that without Katsav admitting he messed up and expressing regret, he’s unlikely to get sprung from the big house no matter who is in the President’s Residence.

But wait, there’s hope. “Katsav’s associates claim that even without expressing regret he can be let off. Even if his request is denied, he still has hope. In another year and a half he can turn to the parole board and ask to shorten his term by a third,” the paper reports.

Bibi’s choice

Israel Hayom previews what it calls Sunday’s “dramatic meeting” between Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid over next year’s budget, in which Netanyahu wants to make room for defense spending, and in which Lapid wants to include his no-tax on first home deal, among a host of other sticking points.

Should they fail to come to terms, new elections could be in the offing, the paper reports, noting that Likudniks think that’s Lapid’s game plan in any case.

“Lapid is looking for a government crisis,” the paper quotes deputy foreign minister and Likud hanger-on Tzahi Hanegbi saying. “He is putting forward an ultimatum that he knows is impossible to accept. Even elections today would be better from his point of view than to see further losses by Yesh Atid in the polls.”

One way to save a little money may be to stop having two competing state-funded cyber-security agencies jockeying with each other.
Haaretz reports that after months of waffling, Netanyahu is finally going to make a decision between the Shin Bet and a newer National Cyber Bureau as to who will protect Israel’s from online attacks. The paper gives no hint as to which will end up on top, but does report that the road to a decision was more troubled than an elevator ride with Ray Rice:

“Five people very involved in the issue, all of them former and current senior government officials, characterize the turf war as a war filled with passion, mudslinging, interests and politicking, all of under the radar of defense officials. In the balance is not only prestige and influence on such an important security issue, but also fat budgets.”

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