Why Not Not Refuse To Serve in The IDF: Contact Info, Haaretz Articles, and Responses

Information trickles in. Mori is enjoying the idyllic vistas of Northern Israel in a twenty person tent, where he is, more than anything else, waiting around. He is expected to be released next Thursday and likely will be called back again the following Sunday. New Profile organized a lawyer to go meet with him and help speed the process along. In addition, they have uploaded his information to their website. You can go there to get more info on what is happening legally and logistically. This link has info about how to contact Mori and other helpful steps for him now. It is also a forum for writing letters and otherwise demonstrating our support.

In other news, Haaretz did a piece on Moriel’s refusal:

In other, other news, Micah Stein wrote and published a response to Moriel’s refusal at Open Zion, to which I would like, in turn, to respond to with some of my thoughts. Micah argues three different things in the piece, with all of which I respectfully disagree (it’s important to note, probably, that Micah wrote in a respectful, thoughtful and civil manner and tone. Thanks, Micah).

First, he says that Mori’s action is irresponsible or coherent because it does not conform to Kant’s Universal Maxim. Then, he says that the IDF’s primary purpose is not to perpetuate the Occupation, but rather to protect Israel against existential threats from his neighbors. Finally, and perhaps this section does not qualify as an argument, he states that there is no price to pay that is too high for protecting our people, our nation, and our home. He writes, “The IDF protects a people, land, and culture that are deeply important to me. Nothing can outweigh that.” Let’s take a look at these arguments one by one.

First, and I think this is a very common response to Mori’s refusal and to military refusal in general, Stein says that if everyone were to refuse to serve in the army then the consequences would be horrible and so Mori’s action is a) not valid as a form of resistance because it could not be universal; b) not coherent because his action relies on the fact that others do not act in the way that he is advocating that they should; and, this is the undertone beneath a) and b), c)  immature at best, and extremely dangerous at worst. Now, I think that Kant’s categorical imperative is a somewhat dubious foundation for making a consequentialist moral statement (i.e. that you should commit violence that you don’t believe in because the consequences would be bad if you do not. Kant is not a consequentialist.), or any sweeping moral statement for that matter. It is certainly less than clear to me that any action must be “universalizable” in order to be deemed good, or even acceptable (maybe I will right more about this in a later post). This, however, is neither here nor there. The important point is that I don’t agree with Micah’s premise. Mori’s position is coherent because he does hope that more people would take a similar stand against the military, against the current system of ethnic privilege, and against the occupation writ large. If you believe that the Israeli military must change, it is coherent to refuse and to urge others to refuse to take part in its mechanisms. Stein says that Moriel privileges Palestinian safety over Israeli safety, but he is relying on unsupported logic: if the IDF (and, particularly, the IDF’s continued Occupation of the Palestinian Territories) is resisted, then Israelis will be less safe. I don’t believe that more widespread resistance to the Israeli government and refusal to participate in the Israeli military would lead directly to another Holocaust. It would lead, rather, to a revolution. It would lead to a situation where the Israeli military and the Israeli government change their priorities and actions vis a vis the Palestinians. The system cannot continue if individuals refuse to take part in it, and the primary goal of military refusal is to encourage other Israelis and like-minded Jews to revolt against a system that is essentially unjust. This revolution does not necessarily mean that Israel’s army would be gone; it does however mean that it would be transformed. And this transformation would be good. So, his action is coherent and refusal of military service is a potentially “universalizable” commitment: it is a statement that the current formation of the IDF is an institution that requires a wholesale revolution.

Second, Stein says that the IDF doesn’t actually need to be transformed. The military, he says, is primarily a defense force and, therefore, an admirable, if regrettable thing. This, in many ways, is the crux of the argument. A remarkable amount of military energy is spent controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians. It is not, as Stein, claims “cheap.” The article that he links us to defend this assertion holds no proof that the IDF spends most of its resources on combatting nuclear war, rather than on the occupation. I do not know the numbers (although the article he linked us to did state that 2/3 of the military budget is spent on personnel, and the majority of army personnel deals with the occupation), but I do not doubt that the Occupation is not a throwaway line-item in the budget. The IDF is largely, if not primarily, organized to control the lives of millions of civilians who wish not to be controlled. This is not a defense force, this is not a matter of national security. Stein says confidently that the IDF’s central purpose is defense, but this is an assertion based upon a wishful projection. If only… Defense is a worthy goal, but Stein isn’t willing to look at the IDF as it is currently organized. This is the central argument, probably, between the center-left and hard-left in Israel. The center-left continues to believe wishfully that the IDF is organized only to defend and protect Israel despite the facts on the ground, while the hard-left is, I believe rightly, skeptical of these assertions. If you believe that the Occupation is a form of self-defense or that the IDF is primarily a “defense force” today, then the burden of proof is yours. Because the evidence that I have seen – settlements, and administrative detention, and the separation wall, and army divisions in Palestinian cities and homes, and child arrests, and transportation barriers – does not lead me to this conclusion. Too often, it seems, the mission of the IDF is to protect Jewish expansionism and settlements, privilege Jewish people, and harshly control the lives of Palestinian subordinates. This is all justified under the banner of “security.” National security is used as a red herring in these debates – you cannot simply assume that the IDF’s mission is solely (or even primarily) to defend the Israeli people, you must prove that assumption. You must prove it because the army (by definition) is violent, and the Occupation is horribly oppressive to millions of people. National security is an important goal; unfortunately that and the mission of the IDF seem only sometimes to line up.

Finally, Stein asserts that nothing can outweigh the protection of the people and the land that is deeply important to him. This, no doubt, is a sentiment that lies in contradiction to Kant’s categorical imperative. But, again, that is neither here nor there. I understand the idea, and I empathize with it. However, I think it hides an insidious ugliness as well. If we say that costs are irrelevant, than we refuse to look deeply at the true costs of our actions. This is unacceptable. We must look closely at what we are doing and not forgive it or rationalize it preemptively. I believe that if you look closely at the Occupation and the Israeli government’s conduct in the Occupied Territories, it becomes clear that it is incompatible with the universal maxim that Palestinian humans are just as worthy as Jewish humans. Perhaps nothing cannot outweigh the survival of our people, Micah. But that is not what it is at stake here; to suggest otherwise is misleading. The real question is: why are we inflicting harsh, grinding, constant suffering on millions of people? It is because we think that Palestinians deserve it, because we think that Jews are superior, simply assume that it will keep us safe, or else we fail to acknowledge or see the suffering that is occurring. Our assumptions should not hinder our ability to see.

More updates coming soon. Again, if you want to contribute, please email me at jessesrothman@gmail.com