Making Violence Consumable: Professionalism and Technofetishism at the Israeli Arms Expo

By Shimrit Lee
Submitted to Session P4338 (Israel's Global Arms Economy: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Post-9/11 Security State, 2016 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
Security Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
This paper examines the very notion of “selling” as it relates to how Israel’s arms industry markets technologies of death and destruction. Through an ethnographic case study of the biennial Israel Defense Exhibition (ISDEF) held in Tel Aviv that showcases the latest technologies of warfare, I demonstrate how exhibitors remake violence into an acceptable good through techniques of professionalism and techno-fetishism. In the technique of professionalism, the expo’s spatial arrangements and professional codes of conduct represent a microcosm of Israel’s arms industry, including its “Security Network” that erases boundaries between Israel’s military and the high-tech industry (Sheffer and Barak 2013, Gordon 2011) as well as its unique nation-brand which further dissolves distinctions between nation and corporation. In the technique of technofetishism, the arms expo erases the body of the “terrorist” enemy and instead present a “clean war” (Stahl 2010) in which the targeted human subject is reduced into digital data. The main protagonist of the expo is the technology itself, doing its job with clean professionalism in which death is abstracted or euphemized.

I argue that the arms expo is an important site for an emergent cultural critique of securocratic warfare as it encapsulates future imaginings of the so-called “war on terror.” ISDEF replaces notions of conventional warfare with a new reality in which warfare is a fluid and ubiquitous concept whose practical realization does not rely on the presence of the human body. The expo offers an anticipatory vision of long-term control, stabilization and pacification that is open-ended and totalized. Further, while shedding light on the specifics of Israel’s military-industrial-security complex, the expo provides new insight into how war is packaged and sold to a global audience, staging certain acts of state violence as legitimate and even desirable.