Israeli Soldiers Embrace Vegan Diet, World Peace Next?

Israeli Soldiers Embrace Vegan Diet, World Peace Next?

“I understood that animals are more conscious than we thought, which is bothering me and making me think twice.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke this sentiment in a December 2015 interview with The Atlantic (Kamin). The article reports a growing movement toward veganism within the Israeli military, a reflection of a nationwide trend. Soldiers who register as “vegan” are now provided with animal-free meal and clothing options, from “breakfast boxes packed with tahini, nuts, and dried fruit, as well as soy-based meat substitutes for dinner,” to “leather-free combat boots and wool-free berets.” But what effect does a vegan diet have on the soldiers’ job description?

Military service is compulsory in many countries, but exceptions can sometimes be made for ethical objections. In the United States, all male citizens are required by law to register for conscripted military service at age 18 (Selective Service System, 2015). In Israel, 18-year-old men and women are obligated by citizenship to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (Simon, 2014). Both nations provide exemption from conscription for conscientious objectors – those whose beliefs preclude their active participation in war. Over the past decade, the number of people opting out of Israeli military service has climbed (Reuters, 2007) in conjunction with an increase in veganism (Shpigel, 2015). The correlation of the two gives rise to questions of ethical reconciliation.

People choose vegan diets for many reasons, including for personal health, environmental sustainability, and social justice. The primary reason, though, is often cited as nonviolence, or peace that is sometimes referred to as ahimsa – a Sanskrit term that means nonharming in the truest sense (Nonviolence United, 2010). In his foreword to Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (2015), doctor and author Deepak Chopra describes ahimsa as a settled state of attention that expands awareness through a change in consciousness. It is a return to the natural state of deep inner peace that pervades all thought, word, and action. As veganism continues to increase in popularity worldwide, vegan soldiers will have to contend with their consciences.

As more people choose a vegan lifestyle, a correlated increase of conscientious objectors to killing in the name of war will likely follow. Reaching a state of ahimsa that prevents the killing and eating of animals, while continuing to choose to kill humans, creates a logical dilemma. If, as Netanyahu realized, “animals are more conscious than we thought,” and human consciousness is already widely accepted, then perhaps people who refuse animal products on their plates will also “think twice” before taking a human life. If people continue to lay down their steak knives – and their guns – could a tipping point eventually be reached at which enough refuse military service that it becomes impossible for two nations to fight a war? The practice of veganism has the power to increase the experience of ahimsa – and the power to create world peace.

-Allyse Sonnega


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