Principle or Pathology? Adjudicating the Right to Conscience in the Israeli Military

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The Israeli military's Conscience Committee evaluates and exempts pacifists from obligatory military service, based explicitly on concern for liberal tolerance. However, I found that liberal pacifist applicants' principled objections to violence challenged the state, and as such, applicants who articulated their refusal in such terms are rejected by the military review board. By contrast, pacifist conscientious objection based in embodied visceral revulsion to violence did not challenge the state and moral order, and such cases were granted exemption. Objections based in understanding pacifism as a physical incapacity depoliticizes it by making it incommensurable with public moral debate concerning military service. The pathologization of pacifism demonstrates a contradiction between liberalism's ideology and its practices, revealing that the limits of liberalism are not only exterior, in nonliberal alterity, but also on liberalism's own interior frontiers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-94
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Conscience
  • Ethics
  • Liberalism
  • Military


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