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Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Midnight Dispatch: Right of Refusal?

I was a supporter of Sharon from the beginning, back when protests in front of Collis left associate professors of religion confessing their shame of supporting Israel next to fervent, if ill-informed, senior colleagues of mine who have since gone off to medical school. Back when it was fashionable to regurgitate the fashionably correct and ubiquitous condemnations of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's “history” as a mass murderer and a genocidal maniac in response to the equally strident and obnoxious "pro"-Israel lobby, I expressed public joy that Sharon was the sitting prime minister in Jerusalem and foretold that he would in fact have both the courage and fortitude to bully the professional political hacks of the Knesset into a peace process and into dismantling the settlements. Given Sharon's enthusiasm in supporting his buddy Menachem Begin as housing minister, making a well-timed phone call to then Prime Minister Begin at Camp David supporting an exchange of the Sinai for peace, I knew that this old warrior, whose disastrous intervention into a messy Lebanese civil war as defense minister almost chased him from public life forever, was the one who could make peace.

Mocked by Ha'aretz and detested by the European public intellectuals, this pariah politician rebuilt the Likud party that would ultimately become as much of stumbling block to him as the universal hatred of the political left. Sharon admitted recently, as reported by Ha'aretz, "I may have been mistaken in going to the [Likud party] referendum. But the question now is whether to endanger Israel with a severe political crisis with the United States that will bring about an immediate political decline...What is happening now is not an argument between me and [Netanyahu]. The issue on the table now is us versus the U.S. I want to warn those comrades who seek to exploit this hour of crisis to advance their personal political agendas. As one who established the Likud and rehabilitated it from 19 to 38 seats, there is no one in this room to whom the Likud is dearer than to me. The Likud is dear to us - but Israel is dearer."

The problems threatening to rend Israel asunder, of refuseniks, of national conscience, of the entire national project as a whole, jumped to the forefront of my consciousness, from the depths to which I had relegated them after vowing to never again address the "Israel Question" after the incivility of the entire affair from my first two years in college, after considering the two drafts of bills before the House and Senate today concerning [mandatory] national service. Many soldiers, of whom one expects adherence to the socialized and ingrained law of obedience to superior officers in most circumstances, have refused to serve in Israel's current day colonialist project (of which Sharon was a, if not the, major architect). In a nation whose founders’ consciousnesses were galvanized and forged during an era of the Soviet and Nazi determination to extinguish all occurrences of religiocultural and biological Jewishness, respectively, one would expect its citizens to be extra sensitive to any politico-military apparatus, like the German SA, and, in some cases the IDF units deployed in the territories, whose existence is a daily reminder of the sub-human status of the person brutalized by such a regime. Viewed in this light, the refuseniks, by opting out of the banalizing boot of occupation, grant voice and visibility to the victims of a necessary Israeli national project. However, given this courage when the national apparatus is handling a class of person deemed alien and type-casted as hostile, what shall become of the military when Prime Minister Sharon deploys it against the profound beliefs of many of its citizens, the other great Satan in this conflict, the "settlers"?

How many speakers invited to campus to speak on the Israel question, solidly on the left as many of them happen to be, unctuously preached to the collegiate choir "Israel must dismantle the settlements"? As political, moral, and strategic necessity, this is statement is quite true; there is no reasonable person on either "side" of this question who believes in the defensibility of the settlements. What is always left unspecified by such speakers, reveling as they are in being part of the moral majority, is the actual implementation of this idea in reality and the affect it would have on the Israeli national consciousness. The precedent set by such act of political boldness-- of a government forcibly relocating its most fanatical citizens, acting against massive protests, and facing a potentially huge level of conscious objectors-- would not be negligible. Such an action raises a whole host of questions, the foremost being: when ordered to do so should a soldier act against a fellow citizen?

If we learned anything from witnessing the universally condemned horrors of the Nazi regime, or of the totalitarian terror inside the Soviet Union (with whom a number of academics sympathized at the time), it should be this: soldiers, when asked by superior officers to execute an order against a non-combatant, especially a fellow-citizen, has a moral obligation to disobey. I have seen evidence in international newspapers and on private websites that rightist opposition to Sharon has invoked this legacy of the obligation to opt-out (they are, of course, silent on the question of their complicity with the maw of the occupation) through the rhetoric familiar to us: evacuating the settlements is population transfer, a crime against humanity, an illegal military order with a black flag waving over it. Legality aside (I believe that the Israeli Supreme Court has not permitted Israeli law to have dominion over the territories), when substantial portions of the Israeli and international left have been explicitly or implicitly legitimizing political refusal to obey military orders they have used a similar method of political argument in pseudo-legal dress (i.e the international illegality of the Israeli occupation).

In the back of our minds, I think that we always knew that a day would come when an Israeli government would have to decide to evacuate and dismantle the physical manifestations of its colonialism, the settlements, against the wishes of its settler-citizens. Soldiers and policemen would have to execute this decision, many of them in contravention of their own beliefs and conscience, going against the ethical idea of non-violence against fellow-citizens that is the essence of the post-Nazi nationalist project. When the debate in Israel inexorably turns toward the question of the duty of persons in uniform to obey orders concerning the evacuation of the settlements, what will those intellectuals who glorified and praised the refuseniks of the left have to say? The simple answer that the just beliefs of leftists justify refusal and the unjust beliefs of rightists do not will not suffice. The questions of who will protect the Jewish nation from external enemies in the face of often hostile world-- the Middle East is a rough neighborhood--- when any objector is allowed to refuse and is praised for this refusal is a compelling problem indeed.

This debate, seemingly in the obscure province of Israel, a state that most people are content to forget is attempting to negotiate its problematic existence, will have great relevance for American students if Congress passes S89 and HR163, the Universal National Service Act of 2003, which would reinstate the military draft in the Spring of 2005 without exemptions for students or women. Maybe the debate in Israel is not so obscure after all. Given that many of us have strong objections about what the military is and isn't doing (though I have come around on the Iraq question), and about the social and moral contexts of hegemonic projection of military power in an age of unipolarity, what shall we do when are called to serve a country that we are proud to be in but often ashamed to be associated with?

Princeton, NJ 2004

Tuesday, August 03, 2004
This is just hilarious

Man watches porn on first floor Berry. Best quote: "Don't yuck someone else's yum."

Sunday, August 01, 2004
Miscites et al.

Tim Waligore asked for a clarification of my Benhabib quote in my latest post. In reference to these sentences: "This brings me to a practical application of what I have learned. The College can, and should, ban speech that injures the quality of life and the total community environment of learning. Since we as individuals are, as political theorist Benhabib notes, situated among many webs of interlocution and various communities of language and socializing, we as individuals, and the College as an institutional authority, have the responsibility to censor and punish speech-acts, which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" Tim responded:

In Seyla Benhabib's book The Claims of Culture, Benhabib says she agrees with Charles Taylor that our selves are situated among many webs of interlocution. BUT Benhabib says that, from that fact, she does not think it follows that that the government should single out one of those indenties and it give specific institutional recognition and protection to it. At least in the context of society as a whole, Benhabib makes it clear that she is more interested in our identities being contested in the institutions of civil society, rather than through state enforcement. Granted, I haven't read everything Seyla Benhabib wrote, and she may in fact be in favor of 'speech codes.' But simply because we publically negotiate and contest our identities does not entail that the nearest institution should be empowered to regulate identity. Stevenson can make whatever argument he wants; I just don't think it's Benhabib's argument and I'd like him to tell me at least where he got it from.
I cited Benhabib, who was quoting/agreeing with Taylor but I didn't remember that at the time, to argue that we are situated selves, with multi-faceted identities. I cited her to show that individuals are complex situated selves and that the content-neutral idea of free speech as freedom of expression being defended in the D, rather than free speech as a tool toward small-e enlightenment, been offered by myself did not sufficiently recognize the potential for speech-acts to injure parts of a persons identity. I tried to make clear, and may have failed, that any defense of free speech, in my mind, needed some mechanism by which it could punish hateful, harmful speech, and promote constructive, pedagogical speech. I did not want the "nearest regulate identity" projects as a whole but to be in a position to punish and regulate exceedingly harmful discourses.

I did not cite her to say that the college should single out any one identity to which it grants special protection/recognition. No where did I state that Jewish persons needed some special protection from hate-speech. I am unclear on where Benhabib falls on the issue. My invocation of her should not implicated in my argument for "speech codes" (that label in and of itself is problematic). It's just that I was relying on her for a specific conception of identity, which she herself was appropriating from Taylor, and wanted to mention my indebtedness to her on that front. Starting from the Benhabibian/Taylorian conception of the situated self, I conclude that speech which "by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" is not speech that should be eligible for protection under the banner of free speech. The wording of the latter half of the sentence I pulled from my notes on a US supreme court case 315 US somewhere between 570 and 573. My notes have the quote as follows: "There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem...insulting or fighting words which [cause] injury or (garbled) breach of the peace." In retrospect, I should work quotes around the latter half of the sentence and send that off to the D. (It has been edited on this site.)