The politicization of the military is a dangerous but underplayed element of populism. A new article by SIS Professor Guy Ziv in Political Science Quarterly explores how Israel, which has experienced its own nationalistic populism since 2010, represents a deviant case with regard to the civil–military dimension.
In contrast to the typical pattern of populist leaders enhancing the military's influence to bolster their own power, in Israel, populist politicians have sought to restrain the military top brass from the decision-making process, going as far as delegitimizing them by portraying them as part of the “leftist” out-of-touch elite. In a country in which the lines between the military and civilian spheres have traditionally been blurred and where security officials have played a significant role in decision-making, this has been a noteworthy development in the era of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Guy's article advances two causal claims pertaining to the Israeli case. First, perceived military setbacks and political-diplomatic moves associated with the military have diminished the once-hallowed reputation of the Israel Defense Forces. Second, right-wing politicians often view the military top brass as potential political rivals, given the standard practice in Israel of high-ranking generals entering politics upon retirement. The generals’ declining status in Israeli society has opened up the political space for populist nationalists to assault both active and retired security officials whose assessments often clash with the worldview of right-wing politicians.