Sunday, May 07, 2006

Soldier Challenges Dismissal

Last week, First Sergeant Hananel Dayan-Meged refused to shake the hand of Israel's highest military officer, Dan Halutz while receiving a reward as an outstanding soldier. He was then removed from his unit, although his award was not taken away from him.

He is now threatening that if he's not reinstated and not offered a public apology, he will bring petition the Supreme Court. In the US, where the army is granted extreme deference, this case would have no chance of going in his favor.

However, in Israel, the land where everything is the business of the Court, it wouldn't shock me to see the dismissal overturned.

Whether he should have been removed or not is a question for the army. The army affords little rights and people can be dismissed for infractions that wouldn't even lead to sanction if he was employed by a government body. However, in the private realm, employers have great discretion whether to fire employees for minor infractions, and put simply, if someone refused to shake his bosses hand because he disagreed with a political decision, you can bet he'd find himself waiting on the unemployment line.

Israel has no first amendment, so the questions there are usually simpler. The government probably would have the power to fire someone for his political beliefs, even though in the US that would be prohibited. Here Dayan-Meged refused to shake Halutz's hand as an expression of his disdain for the army that removed his family from their home. In the US, it's unclear whether his action would be considered conduct, or expression mixed with conduct, but I would guess that there's no chance the Court would support his case here. But in Israel, I can't imagine he'd have a speech right to embarrass the chief of staff.

Should the army punish someone for publicly embarrassing a high-ranking official, especially when that soldier is clearly elite? Soldiers should just make political statements openly because the army is not a place for politics. When soldiers do not these statements, the army is within its rights to remove them, in order to deter future statements. But does the benefit of deterring future political comments outweigh the harm of losing an elite soldier? That's a question I'm not qualified to answer, but I hope the army took the time to think this though. I doubt they did, and that's discouraging.

No comments: