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Israel Studies 3.1 (1998) 85-111

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Peace Now and the Legitimation Crisis of "Civil Militarism"

Michael Feige



"I CONTACTED PEACE NOW BECAUSE of the war, they contacted me because of my decoration," remarked a well-known Yom-Kippur war hero in an interview with me. He exhibited an acute awareness of the advantages his army credentials held for political action, even—or especially—within the framework of a peace movement. The same statement expressed sarcasm and irony toward the manipulation of military symbols for political gains. His statement reflects a relatively new phenomenon in Israeli army-society relations: individuals whose identity was forged by the Israeli state, in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, are gaining a critical perspective and are increasingly reflecting upon the socio-political meaning of their allotted military role. 1

These processes should be seen against the background of the growing volume of academic literature depicting Israel in terms of a militaristic society. 2 Basically, this perspective raises the claim that the protracted management of the Israeli-Arab conflict assumed paramount importance in constructing Israeli social institutions and in defining the terms of participation in the social and political spheres. Researchers choosing the loaded term of militarism—albeit a mild type in comparison to other historical examples—contend that the Israeli state has had to constitute suitable institutional arrangements in order to enable the smooth continuation and reproduction of militarism. 3 Of special importance is the socialization of individuals through the school system and the army conscription system into the militaristic ethos. In short, it is claimed that the Israeli state has created reproductive mechanisms and conforming subjects. My claim is that, ironically and dialectically, the very mechanisms constructed to reproduce the Israeli type of militarism created social forces that oppose and endanger it, through the creation of a perspective of self-reflection. Therefore [End Page 85] the legitimation crisis is an inherent and logical outcome of the social and cultural arrangements that constitute Israeli militarism.

An historical analysis of Peace Now, Israel's largest and most influential peace movement, will be used in order to examine the thesis. A full detailed account of the movement's history is beyond the scope of this article, 4 and I shall concentrate only on the importance that army and military experience represented in the movement's actions and political thought. The article shows that the initiation of the movement can be explained in terms of the Israeli military ethos, but that gradually the military experience lost its effect on the movement. Peace Now is portrayed as a model for an internal value shift, having its beginnings in the logic of militaristic ethos, and gradually eroding the basic assumptions of that ethos. Therefore a re-evaluation of the dynamics of the Israeli type of militarism is offered.

Israeli Civil Militarism

The importance of army experience and security issues in Israeli politics and society can hardly be overstated. Some often cited examples are the following: the size of the Defense Ministry budget as a proportion of the entire GNP and the relative size of the work-force engaged in military objectives, either as soldiers or civilians 5 ; the advantage ex-generals enjoy when entering political, economic, or administrative elite positions 6 ; the frequent use of security claims in the explanation of state action, whether military or diplomatic; the importance of military and security arguments in the legitimizing discourse of civil and social inequalities 7 ; and, in general, the importance of contributing to the country's security in exchange for a privileged place in the stratification system. 8

Taking into consideration the size and strength of the Israeli Defense Forces and its protracted involvement in what is defined by most Israelis as a life-or-death national conflict, observers in Israel and abroad have raised the question of the socio-political barriers preventing Israel from becoming a militaristic garrison state (in Lasswell's terms 9 ). Among the answers given are the permeable borders between the military and civil sectors and the high degree of integration of the army...


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