Recently, I met with an Israeli peace activist here in Seattle who shared with me his perspective on the role of the intelligence services within Israeli society. As an example of the noxiousness of their impact, he pointed to the recent arrest of the leadership of the New Profile movement by the Shin Bet. New Profile is a feminist anti-militarist group with encourages young people to resist conscription.
Given the importance of military service to Israel both from a security stand point as well as for social cohesion, any organized effort to resist such conformity would be seen in the most severe light by hardline security hawks. This explains why the Shin Bet came down so hard on virtually the entire national leadership of the group:
On 26 April, a day before Israel’s Memorial Day, Israeli police produced an absurd piece of political theatre – as Dimi Reider first reported here last Thursday. As if facing down dangerous organised criminals, they raided the homes of six activists in different parts of Israel, who were then detained for interrogation. Exploiting the emotions roused on a day of mourning for military dead, the police action singled out and branded anti-military activists as outside the legitimate Israeli community.
At the time of writing, police have summoned 10 additional activists for interrogation. The activists targeted are members of New Profile, a feminist movement working for over a decade to reverse the militarisation of state and society in Israel.
The truth of the matter is that Israeli society, and especially Israeli youth, are gradually casting off previous cultural and social norms. Service in the IDF, once expected of all except yeshiva students, is no longer a sine qua non of Israeliness. Throngs of young Israelis seek ways to avoid service. Some leave the country if they can. Some seek to game the system. Others resist more forcefully and publicly.
Those who refuse have many motivations. Some simply don’t want to be put in harm’s way. Some object to the Occupation and refuse to participate in a system that perpetuates it. Some motives are pure, some are less so. But the truth of the matter is that the system is gradually breaking down. It’s like Humpty Dumpty sitting on that wall. When he falls, no amount of Shin Bet repair is going to put him back together again:
For years now, the army has regularly been exempting tens of thousands from service without difficulty…Their worry today is rather the popular vote of no-confidence in their easy use of the lives of soldiers – an anger no longer limited to alienated, impoverished parts of society but spreading deep into the middle class as well.
The growing legitimisation of the draft resisters in the Israeli mainstream is also evidence of the weakening of the hold fear has on our society. Those in power…are struggling to keep in place this longstanding means of obscuring political corruption and of feeding the notion of “national unity” in the form of “the people’s army”.
In her Comment is Free post, Rela Mazali, a co-founder of New Profile correctly notes that the group is merely a convenient whipping boy for the military-intelligence establishment:
According to Ha’aretz, the criminal investigation of New Profile is motivated by “growing concern at the defence establishment of a growing trend of draft evasion”. It is not New Profile that is worrying them, we are just an easy scapegoat through which they hope to sow fear and intimidate future draft dodgers.
My lunch companion told me that groups like New Profile are routinely infiltrated by the Shin Bet. Especially if the group is seen as effective in promoting its goals as New Profile undoubtedly is. You can bet that someone informed on all the leaders who were arrested. I don’t know this for a fact. But any spook worth his salt would say that NOT to infiltrate New Profile would be a dereliction of duty for the Israeli intelligence apparatus. That’s how warped their thinking is. A group of pacifist women are a threat to the state. Imagine.
And what do the Israeli powers-that-be really fear? Not just an attempt to break down the consensus regarding military service, important as that is; they also fear New Profile’s ultimate goal which is to struggle for a truly democratic civil society that will be fully inclusive of Jews and Arabs. This scares the pants off them. For them, this is the same as attempting to destroy the State of Israel as they know it. Of course, it is nothing of the sort. But the very idea that New Profile suggests an Israel based on different principles than those endorsed by the political/military/intelligence elite is deeply threatening.
I remember how the U.S. establishment reacted during the Vietnam War to draft resistance and other forms of civil disobedience and unrest. Fists and billy clubs flew, shots were fired, young people died in places like Kent State and Orangeburg. It was a frightening time. The powers that be refused to concede to any young person the right to refuse to obey. My hope is that just as this country absorbed some of the positive lessons offered by anti-war activists here, so too Israel will come to understand that New Profile and groups like it have valuable insights to offer that will make Israel a more just, more democratic, more peaceful society. Amen.