ABSTRACT

The brutality of Israel’s punitive action in Gaza in January 2009 has shocked world public opinion (but not the governments of the ‘free world’), but did not give rise to any meaningful protest activity by Jews in Israel itself. This was in stark contrast to the reaction of Jewish liberal opinion in Israel to the First Lebanon War (1982) and to the efforts to suppress the First Intifada (1988-1993). In both cases the reaction, actual or anticipated, of the social sector that former Chief Justice Aharon Barak had famously called the ‘enlightened public’ – secular, educated, well-to-do Ashkenazim, historically affiliated with the Labour Zionist movement – had played an important role in Israel failing to achieve its military objectives. These failures eventually led to the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. Surprisingly, most studies of Israeli militarism have paid little attention to the role played by ‘enlightened’ public opinion with respect to the belligerent tendencies of the military. On occasion, such as in the two cases mentioned above, liberal opinion served to check those belligerent tendencies; sometimes, as in May-June 1967, it encouraged them (Segev, 2007: 306-307). But in all of those cases it played an independent role that has not been captured by the prevailing approaches to the question of civil-military relations in Israel. Students of Israeli militarism have focused, rather, on the undoubtedly important institutional dimensions of this question, on economic relations, on recruitment to the military and the penetration of retired military personnel to civilian walks of life, and on the diffusion of militaristic values, norms and ways of thinking from the military to civil society (Kimmerling, 1993: 257; Sela, 2007: 54-55; Smooha, 2008). Oren Barak and Gabriel Sheffer (2007) have surveyed the three main approaches to the question of civil-military relations in Israel, which they dubbed ‘traditional’, ‘critical’ and ‘new critical’, and then added a new approach of their own, the ‘policy network’ approach. They compared these approaches along nine different parameters, none of them having to do with the role played by liberal public opinion in military affairs. In their presentation of the different approaches, the ‘civilian sphere’ appears, rather, as a homogenous whole (see also Sheffer and Barak, 2010). A notable exception to this generalization is a study by Avraham Sela (2007) of the role played by the Four Mothers Movement (FMM) in bringing about

Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from its ‘security zone’ in Southern Lebanon in 2000. Sela presents this as a unique case in which a grassroots civil society movement shaped government policy on a national security issue. He characterizes the movement’s leadership as made up of middle-class men and women, politically belonging to the Labour Zionist sphere, and correctly attributes its emergence to the liberalization of Israeli society. However, the FMM was motivated by concern for the safety of the Israeli soldiers, who were sitting ducks in the security zone, rather than by humanistic concerns about the war crimes perpetrated in Southern Lebanon by Israel and by its puppet militia, the Southern Lebanese Army. In this paper I seek to address this gap in the literature, and to add some nuance to the conventional analyses of Israeli militarism, by examining the changing role played by liberal Jewish opinion in checking Israel’s military aggressiveness. I account for these changes through class analysis of the three discourses of citizenship that have prevailed in Israeli political culture over the years: republican citizenship, which was based on the Labour-dominated corporatist economy, and was dominant from 1948 to 1977; liberal citizenship, increasingly dominant from then till 2000; and ethno-national citizenship, which, since the failure of the Oslo peace process in 2000, has gained the upper hand in structuring the ‘enlightened’ public’s attitude towards the Arabs, and has become dominant in military affairs. I illustrate my analysis of the role played by ‘enlightened’ Jewish public opinion in each period with the aid of significant cultural products that represent the political culture of the veteran Ashkenazi elite at each stage. For the first, republican, period I analyse the canonical texts of two of the wars that occurred in that period: the 1949 novella, Khirbet Khizeh, by S. Yizhar, the most important Israeli writer of his generation, a scion of a prominent First aliyah (settlement wave) family, and a Member of Knesset for the ruling party, Mapai, from 1949 to 1967 (Yizhar, 2008), and The Seventh Day, a best-selling book containing the soul-searching discussions of young kibbutz members who had recently fought in the 1967 war (Shapira, 1970). (The book’s title in Hebrew is Combatants’ Discourse (Shapira, 1967)). For the second, liberal, period I rely on Ari Folman’s 2008 animation film, Waltz with Bashir, that deals with his repressed and reconstructed memories of the first Lebanon war. My characterization of the current, ethno-national period, will be based on a scholarly essay, ‘Military Ethics of Fighting Terror: An Israeli Perspective’, written by a professor of philosophy (and one of the most outspoken intellectual critics of the Lebanon war of 1982), Asa Kasher, and an airforce general who until very recently served as chief of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, and published in the Journal of Military Ethics in 2005 (Kasher and Yadlin, 2005).