Is nothing good enough? Phoebe Maltz Bovy on why some progressives are mad at the young Israeli refusing to serve in the Israel Defence Forces

Tal Mitnick, an 18-year-old Israeli, has gone to jail for refusing to serve in the Israel Defence Forces due to his opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza. You might imagine that some hear this and wish he’d serve, while others—in agreement with his stance or not—admire his commitment to his principles.

What you might not have seen coming—what I, for one, did not expect—was how furious people are at Mitnick… from the pro-Palestinian left. At first it seemed like what I was noticing was the hard-to-explain online phenomenon of a lot of people complaining about a weird take they’d seen, albeit one that’s not representative of anything and easily dismissed. I dug a bit and here it seems like yeah people really are arguing this. Below, a smattering of the posts in question. (Note that “IOF” is what people who are not fans of the IDF sometimes call it—offence versus defence, get it, get it?)

I have a few theories about why the people you’d least expect are mad at an Israeli teenager for refusing to serve.

1. Social media favours extreme stances. Whether it’s clout or money you’re after, the more unhinged your take, the better it’s likely to fare. All publicity is good publicity for the hate-quote-tweeted. And yes, asking Israelis to go “home” to “Brooklyn” is unhinged. There is content similarly removed from its hinges on the pro-Israel side. If you want the clout-clicks, be sure to say you want all Palestinians moved to Sardinia. If you don’t say this, then you’re just a liberal bore who favours a two-state solution. (Hello from one such bore, by the way.)

2. The shifting of the Overton Window. If you say enough times that refusal to serve in the IDF is a moderate position, then Israel outright disbanding itself starts to seem like a thing a normal person could go around arguing for and expecting to happen. Because this isn’t all about clout. There are people who genuinely do want Israel gone, and for whom a somewhat demilitarized Israel wouldn’t suffice.

3. The obvious: antisemitism. Remember that thing? It is a thing. If you say that your opposition to Israel is rooted in your reactions to the death and destruction in Gaza, and then a young Israeli man refuses to do his mandatory military service in support of your cause, if he does so at great personal risk (aka not just posting his takes), and this isn’t enough for you, it could very well be that your problem is less with Israeli policies or even Israel’s existence than with Jews.

For more original Jewish culture commentary from Phoebe Maltz Bovy subscribe to the free Bonjour Chai newsletter on Substack.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected], not to mention @phoebebovy on Bluesky, and @bovymaltz on the website formerly known as Twitter. She also holds forth on The CJN’s weekly podcast Bonjour Chai.