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Avoidance of Military Service in Israel

Exploring the Role of Discourse

Oren Livio

This study examines the use of the derogatory term mishtamtim (literally, 'shirkers') for Israeli citizens who do not serve in the military, as employed in a variety of widely circulating cultural texts and in several focus group discussions. I suggest that in addition to revealing and reflecting Israeli society's dominant views and opinions on military service and its relation to civil society, the inherent ambiguity of the mishtamtim label enables interlocutors to construct different notions of the Israeli collective, which are then translated into different patterns of inclusion and exclusion, hierarchies of citizenship, and disciplinary meas ures. In addition, the discursive construction of non-service as avoidance of participation in a symbolic, non-violent, civilianized, and benevolent contribution to the collective conceals the military's own tendency to discharge conscripts, as well as its inherently violent nature and the role that violence plays in providing the glue that keeps society together.