Between Militarism and Pacifism: Conscientious Objection and Draft Resistance in Israel
By Yulia Zemlinskaya
2008 - Volume 2, Issue 1
The outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in 2000 prompted many Israelis to object to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories by refusing their reserve call-up or by resisting the draft. They have established and were active in four social movements (Yesh Gvul, Courage to Refuse, New Profile and Shministim) which supported conscientious objectors and draft resisters as well as argued against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. By analyzing a total of 87 in-depth interviews with members of the four movements, this study attempts to answer the following question: ‘What are the critical discourses voiced by Israeli conscientious objectors and draft resisters, and how can their emergence on the Israeli public sphere be explained'.
The analysis of these interviews demonstrated that in their appeal to Israeli public members of Yesh Gvul and Courage to Refuse utilized symbolic meanings and codes derived from dominant militarist and nationalist discourses. In contrast, draft-resisters, members of New Prof le and Shministim, refusing to manipulate nationalistic and militaristic codes, voices a much more radical and comprehensive critique of the state's war making plans. Invoking feminist, anti-militarist and pacifist ideologies, they openly challenge and criticize dominant militarist and Zionist discourses.
While the majority of members of Yesh Gvul and Courage to Refuse choose selective refusal, negotiating conditions of their reserve duty, anti-militarist, pacifist, and feminist ideological stance of members of New Profile and Shministim leads them to absolutist refusal. How can these differences in the movements' discourses be explained? I contend that the two different critical discourses and patterns of refusal can be understood in the context of recent socio-economic, political and culturalchanges within Israeli society. In recent decades Israel has undergone a process of cultural and structural demilitarization which has resulted in a diminishment of the prestige and importance of military service in civilian life. Simultaneously, the dominant Zionist discourse, which considers Israel as a Jewish state, has been challenged by a post- Zionist critique. Post-Zionism, criticizing the discriminatory nature of the state defined in nationalistic terms, provides a vision of a more civil and liberal Israel. Both demilitarization and post-Zionist critique have particularly affected the Israeli middle and upper classes: that is the urban, secular and mostly Ashkenazi stratum of Israeli society - the very stratum to which Israeli conscientious objectors and draft-resisters belong.
Their critical discourses, therefore, can be seen as an integral part of the sociopolitical and cultural changes that have emerged in Israel in the past decades. The first half of this paper begins with the brief introduction of the movements under study. It then moves to the discussion of the socio-political and cultural changes in Israeli society mentioned above. They provide a background for understanding the movements' discourses presented in the second half of the paper.