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Transformative Justice

Israeli Identity on Trial

Leora Bilsky

Publication Year: 2004

Can Israel be both Jewish and democratic? Transformative Justice, Leora Bilsky's landmark study of Israeli political trials, poses this deceptively simple question. The four trials that she analyzes focus on identity, the nature of pluralism, human rights, and the rule of law-issues whose importance extends far beyond Israel's borders. Drawing on the latest work in philosophy, law, history, and rhetoric, Bilsky exposes the many narratives that compete in a political trial and demonstrates how Israel's history of social and ideological conflicts in the courtroom offers us a rare opportunity to understand the meaning of political trials. The result is a bold new perspective on the politics of justice and its complex relationship to the values of liberalism. Leora Bilsky is Professor of Law, Tel Aviv University.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Law, Meaning, and Violence


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

This book originated while I was a faculty associate of the Ethics and the Professions Program in Harvard University in 1998–99. The program provided me with financial support as well as a most encouraging and congenial environment. I am grateful to director Dennis...

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Introduction: Transformative Trials and Dilemmas of Democracy

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pp. 1-16

Can Israel be both Jewish and democratic? This question has haunted Israeli society ever since the establishment of the state and came to a head during the Oslo peace process. On 4 November 1995 Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at the end of a mass peace rally held in Tel Aviv. The shock waves from that traumatic event were...

The Kastner Trial

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Chapter 1. Performing the Past: The Role of the Political Lawyer

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pp. 19-40

It was not the trials of Nazi perpetrators such as Adolf Eichmann that first brought the Holocaust to the attention of Israeli courts but rather trials involving their Jewish victims. In the 1950s the Israeli Law of Punishment of the Nazis and Their Collaborators led to a number of trials in which judges were obliged to confront the actions of Jewish leaders...

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Chapter 2. From Faust to Kastner: The Judge as Storyteller

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pp. 41-66

Political trials signal points of rupture in the life of a state. This is especially apparent in “transitional trials” when a new regime takes the former regime to trial for its actions. 1 But such rupture is also present when a fundamental challenge to the basic values of society as they are embodied in its laws is raised by an oppositional...

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Chapter 3. The Poet’s Countertrial

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pp. 67-82

Émile Zola’s public intervention on behalf of Alfred Dreyfus is held up as a model for the role of the intellectual in a political trial. Indeed, shortly after Judge Halevi handed down the verdict in which he stated that “K. sold his soul to the devil,” Kastner published a press release in which he compared himself to Dreyfus and promised to clear himself...

The Eichmann Trial

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Chapter 4. A Tale of Two Narratives

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pp. 85-115

Unlike the Kastner trial of the 1950s, the Eichmann trial was intended to be a celebrated educational affair. Great efforts were made to make it more accessible to the public. The court sessions were broadcast on the radio (there was no television in Israel until 1967) and special permission was given to record the proceedings. The trial was cast as historic...

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Chapter 5. Reflective Judgment and the Spectacle of Justice

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pp. 117-144

Transitional trials proceed on two levels. On one level, the judges ascertain the guilt of the defendant as in ordinary criminal trials. But on the other level their judgment is also a performative act through which society’s collective identity is formed in opposition to an Other (the defendant) whose values are contrasted with the fundamental values...

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Chapter 6. Social Criticism in the Shadow of a Transformative Trial

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pp. 145-165

Hannah Arendt was faced with a difficult dilemma while reporting on the Eichmann trial for the New Yorker. As a German Jew, she had to negotiate between her solidarity with a particular national group and her universalistic commitment to justice. 1 How could she express her criticism about the trial without her views being appropriated by...

The Kufr Qassem Trial

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Chapter 7. Between Ordinary Politics and Transformative Politics

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pp. 169-197

As we saw in chapter 5, Adolf Eichmann contended that in all his actions he had merely fulfilled his duty as a soldier to obey superior orders and therefore was legally exculpated. The court rejected this line of defense, relying on the precedent set by the Nuremberg trials that the duty to obey orders cannot be used as a defense against the charge...

The Yigal Amir Trial

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Chapter 8. “A Jewish and Democratic State” Reconsidered

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pp. 201-236

On Saturday evening, 4 November 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin addressed a mass rally in support of the Oslo peace process in the large square by Tel Aviv municipality. The rally concluded with the “Song of Peace,” a popular Israeli song that over the years had become a symbol of the struggle for peace. The prime minister participated in the singing...

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Conclusion: Between Transformative Trials and Truth Commissions

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pp. 237-257

This book has explored the various ways in which a transformative trial can be used to enhance a society’s commitment to democracy. The problems raised by transformative trials can in many ways be compared to those that truth and reconciliation commissions (TRC) are designed to overcome. Indeed, in the context of societies engaged in a...


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pp. 259-342


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pp. 343-363

Table of Cases

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pp. 365-368


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pp. 369-378

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024926
E-ISBN-10: 0472024922
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472030378
Print-ISBN-10: 047203037X

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Law, Meaning, and Violence