A Class War by Any Other Name

IDF Economics: Keynote Speaker Chief of the IDF General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi addressing the audience at the Friends of the IDF 2010 National NY Gala Dinner, where 20 million dollars was raised

About a month ago I wrote an article about a bill proposition to heavily fine initiators and encouragers of a boycott directed at the state of Israel. On Wednesday, I joined a “Non Violence Short Course”. Today a friend posted an article on my Facebook wall [translation of important parts below] about the inflated “security budget”. I’m an activist in Israel, so naturally the boycott, nonviolence and the IDF budget all fall within my interest span. But this morning, as I read this very not-new news article about wining and dining generals, the assumptions tickling at last month’s article were driven home like a punch in the gut: Class war.

Understanding Violence

Like in any 101 course, you start with the basics. One of the basic phrases we went over in Wednesday’s Nonviolence Short Course was “structural violence”:

… a form of violence based on the systematic ways in which a given social structure or social institution harms people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Institutionalized elitism, ethnocentrism, classism, racism, sexism, adultism, nationalism, heterosexism and ageism are some examples of structural violence. Life spans are reduced when people are socially dominated, politically oppressed, or economically exploited.

Although structural violence is naturally the toughest form of violence to identify, you don’t have to be a part of occupation in order to identify these patterns. You can find them in any society where there are extreme differences of wealth and poverty. The Western capitalist system does this and the Caste system in Indian society does this. Obviously the faces of these societies are different, and as such so is the face of their oppression. The nature of their oppression, however, is the same; A class war by any other name would smell as shit.

Class Wars in Israel – Meet the “Others”

When talking about Israeli class wars, the Palestinians automatically come to mind. In 2010 unemployment rates in the West Bank population are as high as 16.5% and military roadblocks create a lifestyle centered around commuting, which is needlessly time consuming and emotionally and physically draining; In Gaza 33.9% of the population are unemployed to date, and civilian facilities such as hospitals, schools and governmental buildings had been destroyed in the murderous incursion known as “Cast Lead”, leaving people unemployed, untended in most basic ways and traumatized. [HUMAN RIGHTS IN PALESTINE AND OTHER OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict]; Palestinian citizens of Israel endure continuing discrimination in education facilities and the work place, due to institutionalized and social racism, which I’ll be exploring at length as you read on.

That said, anyone who has grown up in an unjust society can tell you that it’s never just one minority that suffers the clutches of discriminating structures. First and foremost, in the Jewish state, the above mentioned Muslim Palestinians citizens of Israel, who for some “unexplainable reason” may feel sympathy towards the “Palestinian enemy” (who could be their immediate family), as a result they are rejected from army “service” and thus denied employment advantages (that I’ll discuss later on in the article). Secondly, kicking the Palestinians off the Jewish-state-food-chain completely and replacing them with non-Jewish immigrants, the non-Jewish immigrants are probably the poorest in Israel, the majority of which have no legal status.

When we’re done with the Jewish supremacy, we go into other racisms within Israeli society. Even though we can all pretend to be one united society of shiny happy Jews in the melting pot of Arab hate, there is still major structural injustices towards “Mizrahis” (Jews originating from Arab or Muslim countries); Horrific violations concerning Ethiopians (who’s Judaism is suspect); Women, who are obligated by law to “serve” for only 2 years, as opposed to 3 the men serve and usually are restricted to “rear” activity, also face this economic discrimination to an extent (not to mention their socially assigned roles as soldier-pods in conjunction with bad compensation and barely-there job security for pregnant women); Many gay men, especially the more effeminate, tend to fear the macho military environment, and go as far as “evading” draft with a “psychological clause” on their resume.

The “Radical Left” Class – Direct and Indirect Structural Violence

When talking about Israeli class wars, there’s one more group no one would think of: The radical left. Though I do well to serve the stereotype, I’m not going to go into the claim that the Israeli radical left is perceived as “The most Ashkenazi elite of them all” [by a Russian immigrant apparently so well integrated, that in this article about institutional integration, he completely forgets to mention the phenomenal economic integration of the former Soviet Union immigrants, who comprise about a 6th of Israel proper’s population], for the simple reason that there’s never been an ethnic survey of the radical left. I will note that it’s an interesting fact that we’re constantly being portrayed as a group of people with economic power (remind me where I heard that one before?), when the fact is that we rely on donations for our extracurricular activities of dodging gas grenades, writing human rights reports and creating alternative communities. These activities especially the human rights report writing activities– are highly suspect, as they seem to directly clash with government policies, and as such we should be stripped of our funding.

As if the social climate isn’t enough, the state has simple means of economic repression of the radical left. In it’s most basic form, the radical leftists are denied the soon-to-be-discussed employment advantages, because many are conscientious objectors (this is also socially unacceptable and at times carries a permanent stain of physical or mental inadequacy on your resume).

Lately, the state is moving into a new phase of political structural violence against the radical left (and just another additional economical sanction against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship): Anyone supporting or encouraging boycott of the state of Israel will be subject to heavy fines and personal lawsuits that potentially grow in numbers in accordance to the growing success of BDS. As I explain in the article, it’s not just a legal sanction, but creates an atmosphere in which the political act of boycott is socially unacceptable. The economic implications on a small and already socially ostracized population are evident.

When I first suggested the Law of Boycott Prohibition is about structural violence, I thought maybe I’m giving our not too impressive members of Knesset too much credit. And maybe by suggesting that this is a deliberate step taken in the way of a complete roadmap to structural violence against the remaining dissenting voices in Israel, I’m still giving them too much credit. This law proposal is actually an inherent progression of what has been happening in Israel for 60 years. The militarization of this society (or any other society for that matter) had to become the persecution of the anti-militarization, civilizing voices.

The “Security” Class – The Classiest Putsch in the Middle East

At face value it makes sense that when the state takes away 2-3 years of your life, it will give you something back, preferably in economical assistance in the emancipating(?) form of employability. The fact is, however, that many discharged soldiers find that the only benefit is being categorized as “more employable than an Arab youth in your age group.” The civil benefits get exponentially larger as you go up in rank, and more so as you become an army employee (as opposed to draftee), when the ranks can only get higher. Chiefs of Staff, such as Ehud Barak for example, often go on to politics to the Ministry of Defense (direct translation is “Ministry of Security”) and Prime Minister (it’s actually a debate in Israel whether the Prime Minister’s role can be fulfilled by a man without a serious “security” history. Women, of course, are not even part of this paradigm).

Another obvious problem with the cloak of state “compensation” is that the employment advantage given to “army graduates” isn’t only restricted to “security”-related professions [Hebrew] such as security guards, police officers and the likes, but also given in the high-tech sector, marketing and PR. Not only that, but officers- whether their job description included organizing “junior employees” (=lower ranking soldiers) or not- have even more preferability (whether their civilian job description includes organizing “junior employees” or not). The military hierarchical structure is actually maintained and is complimentary to the capitalist hierarchical structure.

Furthermore, the military industrial complex is so big and Israel is so small that in many fields it’s completely entangled in civilian business, like in the field of aerial engineering, for instance. Another good example is given in the aforementioned article- all about army budgeting in one of Israel’s business papers [limited by my translation]:

… the Defense Ministry’s acquisition processes aren’t completely transparent… I’m talking about civilian acquisition not arms systems. The Defense Ministry makes acquisitions of this sort with substantial sums, and it doesn’t conduct itself by acquisition regulations that the government uses… The Defense Ministry conducts itself by old [acquisition] regulations. A year ago we reached an agreement of changing the regulations. Until today, hey have yet to submit, as promised, new regulations for parliament’s authorization.

Obviously, the military industrial complex in Israel is a profitable one, and yet the successive governments of Israel have had and still have the audacity of creating a civilian urgency to perpetually “bail” it out (this “security” bluff has many implications in the sense of “perpetual state of emergency”). The most formidable business in Israel is a “civil duty.” So we pay with our bodies and continue with an absurd amount of our taxes, perpetuating and empowering a corrupt giant:

… 65% of the IDF budget is allocated towards wages, pension and rehabilitation and only 35% go to strengthening. [I’d just like to mention that about a decade ago the pension system in Israel collapsed, but military pension is still secure.] The Brodet report concluded that there’s no supervision over the wages in the IDF… We discovered that the army accredits benefits to wage components according to criteria that it had invented. Car benefits are determined by rank seniority and not by the tax laws in Israel- meaning according to car type…

I [Shuki Oren, Accountant General, Ministry of Finance] turned to deputy Chief of Staff, 
Benny Ganz, this January… I haven’t received a reply until today yet, even though it’s been half a year. The security system refuses to abide by the requirements of law. They live in a state of their own.

One must ask if the government ministries can’t govern each other, than who exactly is Sheriff in this only democratic town in the Middle East? Of course in every ruling class there are inner classes. There’s the majority of the “security” class in Israel, mostly benefiting from the racist atmosphere in the form of social reassurance that they’re entitled to something (that is considered a basic need and right by any other standard) that others are not, because they are in some way superior, because they’ve “served” their country (from here the way to questioning who’s entitled to citizenship- and as a result human rights- is quick and inherent). And there’s the ruling minority, which literally wines and dines at everybody else’s expense (both the other excluded classes and the lower-ranking in said class):

… When I [Shuki Oren, Accountant General, Ministry of Finance] was invited to a visit to the Ministry of Security in the Kiriya in Tel-Aviv… I was invited to lunch. At [the Ministry of] Finance, when you’re a guest, the most we can offer you is a cold glass of tap water. A year ago head of budget department, Rami Blinkov, even scratched hot and cold beverages from the hosting clause. And there, in the Security Ministry, I was invited to a full meal, including 3 courses, with waiters and wine.

It’s the classiest putsch in town folks! We didn’t even have to pull out our guns.

Education in the Fist of Militarism

I talked a lot about the social impact of structural violence. Any one who studies the anthropology of poverty, can probably clearly see the vicious overlapping circles of economy, social acceptance, culture and education. If education tries to instill the culture of a society into its parts, and in a capitalist society such as Israel education costs, then what you get is perfectly exemplified in Beit Berl College. Beit Berl, one fine day, a few months ago, canceled its gender and anthropology studies in favor of enhancement of the security studies department [limited by my translation]:

A source knowledgeable in the affair said “In Beit Berl they decided that there’s no point or justification for the small programs and instead of them there’s need to invest in programs that attract a lot of students, like the “Society and Security” program. What counts is the number of students, but the unofficial message is that Women’s studies are nonsense. Naturally, Anthropology and Women’s Studies have an aspect of criticism towards the Israeli society. The programs were a bone in the college’s throat.”

Aside from the fact that more women are being pushed out of their jobs, Beit Berl is a private institution; Private institutions make most their decisions on profitability measures. Are we to understand that in Israel of 2010 gender studies (that teaches messages of feminism, equality and diversity, usually taught by women- often queer women to other women) are less profitable than security studies (which teach how to kill little children in refugee camps, usually taught by generals or generals in reserves to other generals)? Are we to understand that a military man is more valuable than a dissenting woman? Maybe even without understanding all the intricacies of the structure, we can already see it.


2 thoughts on “A Class War by Any Other Name”

  1. I think it would be excellent if articles such as this, which make a serious critique of Israeli society, could be made more public, this would help to balance out the unthinkingly pro-Israel stance of the US and Europe and generally white countries. It is clear that where a society discriminates against its own, e.g Ashkenazi against Mizrahi/Sfardi, then it becomes clear that it is likely to discriminate in even worse ways towards its Arab citizens and of course, worset of all, the occupied Palestinians.

  2. ‘In South Africa, the first pillar was to demarcate the population of South Africa into racial groups, and to accord superior rights, privileges and services to the white racial group. The second pillar was to segregate the population into different geographic areas, which were allocated by law to different racial groups, and restrict passage by members of any group into the area allocated to other groups. And the third pillar was “a matrix of draconian ‘security’ laws and policies that were employed to suppress any opposition to the regime and to reinforce the system of racial domination, by providing for administrative detention, torture, censorship, banning, and assassination.’

    From the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa 2009 http://www.hsrc.ac.za/Media_Release-378.phtml

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: