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.
Thanks, great post! Dang the youthful, always causing trouble.
RE: “…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…”
FROM THE POST: “Einstein’s Ghost”, by NellaSelim @ DailyKos, 05/28/09
(EXCERPT)…Einstein began speaking out against a nuclear arms race and opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb. After the Soviet Union exploded their own atomic bomb in 1949, Einstein spoke these words:
“I believe America may totally succumb to the fearful militarization which engulfed Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. There is real danger that political power and the power to influence the minds of people will pass increasingly into the hands of the military, which is used to approaching all political problems from the point of view of military expediency. Because of America’s supremacy, the military point of view is forced upon the world.”
and even more foreboding words:
“In all countries power lies in the hands of ambitious power-hungry men. This is true whether the political system is dictatorial or democratic. Power relies not only on coercion, but on subtle persuasion and deception through the educational system and the media of public information. One can only hope there are enough people the world over who possess the integrity to resist these evil influences. What is important is that individuals have the honesty and courage to stand up for their convictions.”
ENTIRE POST – http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/5/28/736090/-Einsteins-Ghost-
Eurosabra, who was a frequent commentator up until recently, didn’t seem to understand when I suggested that the collision of social forces within Israeli society likely would result in sufficient conflict to “implode” the country. Social and economic inequality, affecting Jewish as well as non-Jewish citizens, and resistance to the militarization of the state, as well as the current economic ‘melt-down,’ were the social forces to which I referred. Leading me now to the unworthy but none-the-less satisfying thought: See! I told you so.
Rather than seeing Israel disappear, I would prefer to have it continue with the strength that comes from equality of rights for all inhabitants, which can only happen if the same equality of rights exists for the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories of Palestine.
I worked in South Africa in 1991, right as the apartheid regime was cracking. One of the features of the moment was the lengths that young white people, especially but not only English-speaking ones, would go to in order to avoid serving in the SADF. It wasn’t always expressed in ostensibly political ways — lots adopted a sort of hippie culture reminiscent of San Francisco in the 60s — but they were not going to let themselves be drafted, even if they had to leave the country.
Just came upon this post. Thanks a lot.
I just wanted to make two factual corrections (being one of the people detained) – first of all, so far as we know, at least, the Shin Bet was not involved in the whole thing. It was the Israel police (more precisely, the Military Attorney General approached the civilian Attorney General, who instructed the police to investigate us for “incitement to dodge conscription”). But it’s a regular criminal investigation.
Secondly, and importantly, New Profile does not have a leadership. We’re a non-hierarchical movement, and the police didn’t seem to know much about who’s active and who’s not either… So the upshot is that New Profile is going on better than ever.