Thursday, May 30, 2013

65 Years Ago This Week: Constituting an Army

65 years ago this week, the Provisional Government debated the founding of Israel's army. On our Hebrew website we've published a collection of documents from that week, and here we'll tell part of the story about the substantial differences of opinion.

The three major documents are the transcript of the cabinet deliberations on May 23, 1948, the discussion on May 26, and of course, the official declaration, published on May 31, 1948. Some of the deliberations focused on the usual: the wording of this paragraph, or the necessity of that section. Most noteworthy of the banal subjects of deliberation was the sanction stipulated for anyone who might not comply and enlist - should the law set a sanction? or should later regulations deal with them? - and it's noteworthy mainly because the exact same discussion is still going on right now, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The more interesting differences of opinion, however, had to do with the relation between religion and the new state, and the monopoly of power. The religious problem focused on the oath of loyalty stipulated in the decree. The religious ministers preferred there to be a declaration of loyalty, which is secular, and not an oath, which is religious. The secular majority rejected their request and enacted an oath. (Later on, soldiers were given the choice.)

The monopoly of power arose because the IZL and the LEHI were still active, and it wasn't clear if they'd fold into the national army with grace, or with a rumpus. One of the proposals was that the army drop the word defense (Hagana) from its title, so that no-one would think the IDF was merely a continuation of the pre-state Hagana; if it's only called Israeli Army, went the thesis, the non-Hagana units would find it easier to join. The majority rejected this call, and Israel Defense Forces it is. Later in the meeting (on May 26th) the ministers wondered who enlistees would swear loyalty to: the military command? the State? The government? What wold happen if there was a putsch and soldiers had sworn loyalty to the army? What if there was a putsch and they had sworn loyalty to the government? Quite a chunk of the meeting went on this discussion, which shows that in May 1948 the cabinet was not convinced that Israel would necessarily always be a stable democracy.

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