Israeli objectors find community in New York post-ostracism

He dreaded the slur “mishtamet,” a moniker for a conscription evader. An individual who withdraws from their obligations.

However, at the age of seventeen, Asaf Calderon, a Jewish social worker, made a momentous decision: to abstain from the compulsory military service that is obligatory for almost all Israeli citizens.

Conversely, he sought and was granted a medical exemption on the grounds of mental health. However, his decision was not without consequence.

Calderon, 34, a soft-spoken individual characterised by round spectacles and a tender smile, observed that his companions became increasingly distant thereafter. Individuals from his family ceased all communication.

His decision had rendered him a pariah in Israel, even among his closest companions, he realised. In the end, he relocated to New York City.

Regarding conscientious objectorsโ€”individuals who abstain from military service on moral or ethical groundsโ€”Calderon stated, “It makes no difference why you do it.” “You will be, in a sense, shunned.”

The Gaza conflict, however, has intensified the pressures that he and other conscientious objectors face. Entire communities have been destroyed by Israeli ground forces and aerial bombardment in the Palestinian enclave since October 7.

Conscientious Objectors Find Solace

The offensive followed an assault that reportedly claimed the lives of 1,200 people in southern Israel. In contrast, the subsequent conflict has claimed the lives of over 30,000 Palestinians, including a significant number of minors. Experts from the United Nations have declared a “risk of genocide.”Israeli objectors find community in New York post-ostracism

“Since the beginning of the conflict, my adversaries among the Israeli people have primarily told me that I have lost my Israeli identity. “That I no longer identify as Israeli.”

Then Shoresh emerged. Established in the United States towards the end of November, the organisation, partly as a response to the conflict, seeks to advance anti-Zionism through the lens of Israeli citizens.

Calderon met individuals who circumvented Israeli military service or sought official recognition as conscientious objectors while gathering there. He struggled to find a greater sense of community elsewhere than it provided.

Participating in Shoresh events himself, Guy Erez, defined membership as a remedy for isolation. “Oh my God,” he distinctly recalls. “At least someone gets it.” “Thank God I’m not insane.”

A customary practice of obligatory military service

Official statistics regarding the quantity of conscientious objectors in Israel are non-existent, due in part to the absence of a unified definition of the term “conscientious objector.”

Anti-Zionists, including Shoresh adherents, criticize the establishment of Israel as a Jewish nation-state. For religious reasons, others, especially in Orthodox Jewish communities, object to military service.

More individuals oppose specific military operations that they may be required to carry out, such as missions requiring entry into the occupied Palestinian territories.

Neglecting to comply with mandatory military service dates back to the inception of Israel. Shortly after Israel’s independence was proclaimed in May 1948, the government established a conscription-based military composed primarily of pre-existing militias and paramilitary organizations.

However, by the subsequent year, compulsory military service had been firmly established in Israeli legislation. Currently, the majority of Israeli males are required to serve 32 months in the military after turning 18, while women serve for twenty-four months.

Challenges of Military Noncompliance

Certain religious groups, married individuals, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and “those deemed unfit medically or mentally” are granted broad exemptions.

Additionally, conscientious objectors may petition a special military committee for an exemption. However, detractors contend that only a small number of applications are approved, excluding those with religious justifications or documented records of pacifism.

In the absence of such an exemption, declining military service may result in dire consequences. According to the Defence Service Law of Israel, noncompliance by an Israeli citizen with their military obligations may lead to a maximum incarceration sentence of two years.

They may face an additional five years in prison if they deliberately “injure or maim” themselves during the act.

Since the onset of the Gaza conflict, Tal Mitnick, age 18, has emerged as the preeminent figurehead for military refusal. December saw him surrender to the Tel Hashomer military base in exchange for a thirty-day sentence.

He said, “I believe that slaughter cannot solve the problem of slaughter,” in a video before visiting the institution.

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