Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Refusal on the Left and Refusal on the Right

Is it right and proper that potential refuseniks on the left reexamine their position in the light of the fact that the settler right is adopting this form of struggle? Does refusal to serve in the Israel Defense Forces undermine the foundations of democracy and the Israeli social contract? Has the right really drawn encouragement to refuse from refusal on the left?

It is indeed necessary to re-examine our support for refusal in the light of recent political developments. These developments, such as Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan and the brewing of the settler right rebellion determine the shape of public discourse. It is therefore incumbent on us to examine the hard questions that arise in the context of the current public debate.

As to content and the political thrust, the difference between refusal on the left and refusal on the right seems quite clear. Refusal on the left is part of the battle against the occupation. This occupation corrupts Israeli society, empties democracy of content and blocks the path to peace. Thus, there is no similarity between the two acts of refusal. On the contrary, they are polar opposites. The battle against occupation is based on universal values incorporated in international law and generally recognized principles of equality and morality. It is part of the battle for national and civil equality and against national repression. The right, for its part is fighting to strengthen, deepen and expand the occupation. It is to be hoped that the different basis for refusal on the right and on the left, requires no further explanation.

Refusal, the Duty of the Citizen and the Rule of Law

It is of course true that there is a technical similarity between the two kinds of refusal. The law demands showing up and obeying military discipline. The refusal by the soldier to follow an order activates a chain of disciplinary sanctions. But this external similarity should not hide or obscure the vast difference between the two approaches in regards to the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It is no surprise that the establishment attempts to categorize both kinds of refusal as an anti-democratic action and a violation of the rules of the game vital for every social formation.

Your correspondent confesses that he is not convinced that we live in a genuinely democratic society, and not only because of the occupation.In my humble opinion, Israel is about as democratic as it is independent. But lets put aside the historical and theoretical debate on the essence of democracy. Let’s disallow another central argument of the left to the effect that one nation cannot be permitted to decide, even according to the most democratic of procedures, to rule over another nation and to deny that nation its own rights on the basis of the majority in the ruling country. We shall limit the focus of the discussion to those arguments that are presented in public discourse based on the consensus obtaining in
Western liberal democracy.

After we have put aside some very compelling points concerning serious shortcomings of what generally passes for democracy, lets examine, in terms of the basic liberal norms, the place and the function of the right in Israeli society. Back in 1967, the supporters of the Movement for a Greater Israel choked off and shackled any free democratic discussion concerning the fate of the territories recently conquered. Back then, illustrious pillars of Israeli society such as Agnon, Alterman, Haim Guri, riding gun for the Zionist Revisionists (Jabotinsky’s outfit) and the militaristic-minded Ahdut Ha’avoda (if you know your Zionist history) issued a solemn proclamation declaring, inter alia, that ‘no government has or will have the right to return the liberated territories’. The annexationist right did not consider it sufficient to declare any free discussion regarding the fate of the territories as ‘off limit.’ They proceeded to introduce hundreds of thousands of settlers and establish hundreds of ‘legal settlements’ and another hundred or so manifestly ‘illegal settlements’ in the territories. This project was designed first and foremost to frustrate any democratic discussion and to impose, for all practical purposes, a veto blocking any serious thought of meaningful negotiations.

The settlers and their allies have Israeli society by the throat. This part of the picture does not prevent the Israeli establishment from asking us to participate naively in what they seek to present as a free and democratic debate, and to accept the legitimacy of the anti-democratic decision to continue and deepen the occupation. The decision is anti-democratic on two levels. Firstly, of course, towards the people under occupation (sorry, I promised not to talk about this) and secondly, towards the people of Israel who have been denied elementary freedom of decision regarding any meaningful alternative. The establishment continues to work hard to spread the illusion that, in the present circumstances, it is possible to have a free debate on the fate of the territories. The settler right and its allies has consistently demolished all the elementary rules of democracy and the rule of law, but the establishment asks us to continue the game as if we were still on a level playing field.

Presently, the settler right, flaunting the rule of law, is openly preparing itself to challenge the regime. It is using the refusal weapon as part of its campaign to block the disengagement initiative. Of course, there are individual soldiers (or draftees) on the right who are sincerely trying to figure out the right thing to do. However, in fact, the refusal act for them does not involve serious questions of conscience. In truth, they are part of a massive apparatus, a state within a state, which is based on settlement organizations, motivated by rabbinical authorities, and in control of a variety of armed para-military formations. Of course, within this ‘state’ there are different tendencies and various levels of militancy. There are blackmailers and ‘dead enders’, there are cool calculators of how far to push the limits of rebellion, as well as crazed fanatics stirring the embers of messianic flame. But none of these dream of accepting the verdict of a democratic decision to end the occupation, or the simple logic that this decision should not be prejudiced by a host of illegal facts created on the ground over the years. The refuseniks on the right are soldiers in the army of their own state. Their army has a clear goal, to drag the whole nation to an endless occupation, to an endless war for all of Eretz-Yisrael, between the sea and the river. They began this project many long years before anyone on the left dreamed of refusal or even entertained the thought that there should be a limit to blind devotion to the defense of the country. Sadly, our refusal on the left is a non-factor for the settlers. They have their own project, the conquest of the land. That is the reason for their existence.

According to the requirements of this goal, the soldiers of the right chose between refusal and service. Everything is subservient to their goal. Often, when they chose to remain in the ranks, this is done to strengthen their positions in the IDF, and to increase their potential to influence the army or parts of it. Now the rulers of this country really want to have their official army, and they are unpleased over the fact that many of their ranks are actually enrolled in a different army and answer to another authority. But the establishment, lacking character and any sense of security, has gotten used to this situation. Nobody is rocking the boat. Thus, the present army is not any better, and maybe even a bit worse than the policy of the government, which is supposed to be the only factor giving the orders. In the light of all this, why shouldn’t every thinking young person ask himself the fateful question: for what are we supposed to kill, for what are we called on to die. Today, the answer is clear, crystal clear. The IDF is dedicated to preserve the rule of the IDF and Israel in all the territories that are slated for immediate or eventual annexation. It is the height of hutzpah to demand from the left that it remains sensitive to the needs of the social contract and national unity while the cowardly establishment has become a discredited ally of the radical right and its annexationist project. After that same establishment has ignored over the years creeping annexation and the creeping inroads on the democratic process it wants to convince the public that it is the refuseniks on the left who endanger stability and legal process.

In the light of the anti-democratic subversion of the right, it is surprising and even painful to hear voices in our own refusenik community who approve of the refusal on the right and consider it as having much in common with refusal on the left. Some of our friends are impressed by the soul-searching of soldiers on the right and consider their adoption of refusal as an act threatening the military and civilian hierarchy. There is a tendency to see refusal as mainly a personal decision to solve a personal problem while ignoring the all-important political context. This tendency leads friends to consider a crypto-fascist phenomenon as an anti-militarist event.

In our conditions, there are undoubtedly difficulties in explaining the tremendous difference between refusal on the left and refusal on the right. But whenever we can convince people of the political significance and meaning of the occupation, we will be able to convince them that refusal to serve it, is an important and vital step towards democratization of Israeli society.