Sunday, April 25, 2010
Does Michael Makovi Support Anat Kamm?
Recently there has been a controversial case in Israel involving a woman named Anat Kamm. While serving in the IDF, she downloaded sensitive documents, which she handed over to Haaretz. Think of this as Israel's version of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. (If you are wondering how a common soldier could I have access to sensitive material, as the book Start-Up Nation point out, the Israeli army operates with a shortage of officers, placing unheard of responsibility and power into the hands of regular soldiers.) Reading the weekly Torah Mitzion newsletter this past Shabbos, I found an intriguing denunciation of Kamm by the editor, Eliad Avruch.
A country and society cannot function when everyone does whatever they feel like. It is true that democracy is rule by the people, but that does not mean that the every individual can act on every whim. If we want to have a functioning country and society, we must continue to strengthen government institutions, to which everyone – and this means every single person – is subordinate. Individualism is important, wonderful, and even necessary. But if everyone did whatever they wanted, the country would become simply a collection of individuals which would collapse with the speed of lightning.
The lines in this Kamm case are not just right versus left, Israel policy in the territories, is it legal and moral for Israel to assassinate wanted terrorists, but also, and more importantly, the right of individuals to break laws that they disagree with, even strongly disagree with. The fact that a spokesperson for the religious Zionism would come out in favor of submission to government authority in this case raises the question as to whether he is actually consistent and would support this same government authority when used against settlements.
Michael Makovi is certainly a supporter of the radical civil disobedience of individuals. He does not even believe that people should have to pay taxes that they themselves and through their specific elected representative support. As Makovi notes:
I've spoken to many Israelis, and nearly all of them have a peculiar belief that one is obligated to obey the elected government without exception, with no right of protest or disobedience. According to them, a democratically-elected government has an ontological significance and is beyond any accusations of wrongdoing, and it lacks any accountability or responsibility. According to them, citizens are only to vote and nothing else.
So if someone believes this, then he is personally and individually complicit in any wrong-doing of the Israeli government. If you believe you cannot protest against the government, and if you believe you must accept the government's actions as legitimate without exception - and many if not most Israelis hold this, according to my conversations with Israelis in Jerusalem and Petah Tiqwa and my reading Israeli newspapers - then one is personally culpable for all wrongdoing by the government.
Makovi supports the right of soldiers to refuse to evacuate settlements. He claims that "according to democracy, the government is a servant of the people. So if soldiers believe that expulsions are illegal and criminal and immoral, then it is democracy that grants them the right to protest and disobey orders." So I put the challenge to Makovi and other members of the Israeli right, can you accept the legitimacy of Kamm's actions, even if you disagree with them, as the actions of a person who had the courage to follow through with her convictions?
I would argue that when settlers and their supporters, like Makovi, build settlements deemed illegal by the government and refuse to evacuate them, at that same moment they are also with Kamm, downloading sensitive documents and handing them over to the press. In a universe in which both conservatives and liberals live in the same country, without waging violent civil war against each other, and meaningful political principles exist then liberals and conservatives can be expected to engage in action-reaction. If I, as a conservative, believe that I have the right to break laws that I disagree with then I can expect nothing less from liberals that they will, in turn, break the laws that they disagree with. Rather than denounce Kamm as guilty of treason, Israeli conservatives, if they actually have principles, should embrace their liberal sister (of course in a shomer negiah fashion), offer to share the guilt for her crime and her prison sentence.
Let me finish by saying that I am not opposed to all acts of civil disobedience even when they break laws. It is important, though, that it is limited in such ways as to maintain the overall integrity of the legal system. Civil disobedience must actively respect and even enhance the legitimacy of the overall government even if it disagrees with specific laws. Respecting overall government authority means accepting the legitimacy of the punishments given for breaking the law. If one is going to break the law, one must do nothing to avoid punishment (fines, jail, even death) for it, but must accept it as what he deserves for breaking the law. Remember, every act of civil disobedience and breaking the law is a free license for the other side to act in kind.