Published in The Jerusalem Post on January 9, 2000
Recent surveys published by the Israel Democracy Institute show that significant segments of the Israeli public express deep mistrust of the key institutions of state: the presidency, the courts, the government, the Knesset, the police and the press. Increasing numbers of Israelis think that our democracy is a sham; that double standards are deeply embedded in our polity; that elites rule unfairly and with prejudice.
Given that the spread of this thinking imperils the integrity of Israeli democracy, we ought to be asking ourselves — why is this so? What is responsible for this alarming, growing vote of no-confidence in the probity of our politics?
Well, let us see. Could it be that many right-wing Israelis see a double standard in the way the police and the press viciously have treated Benjamin Netanyahu since he left office, as opposed to the kid-gloves treatment now accorded to President Weizman?
Bibi is suspected of taking home a few gifts-of-office and improperly supervising the way in which his wife and his office handled the furniture-schlepper’s fees. Oy vey. Yet he has been subject to the most sensationalized, humiliating, intrusive police raids and several hundreds of hours of investigation, including televised searches through his wife’s lingerie drawers.
What about the half-million dollars Ezer our President apparently pocketed improperly without report? *Sha shtil….*
It’s worth noting, in this context, that the eternally-hounded Aryeh Deri has been convicted and crucified for taking gifts-in-kind of far smaller sums.
Do you remember the hue and cry that dominated the airwaves for days when Bibi had the gall to take Sarah with him to Wye? How unseemly and wasteful, it was said! Well, Ehud took Navah to Shepherdstown last week, but no such uproar ensued.
Could it be that cynicism about our democratic system is generated by the obvious bias in favor of Prime Minister Barak’s leftist government? Barak had a Basic Law changed in order to expand his government beyond the 18 ministers allowed under the law. Had Netanyahu attempted this, the greatest constitutional minds, moralists and columnists of this country would have fulminated and fumed and sputtered away for months in outrage about Netanyahu’s irresponsibility and thuggishness.
Could it be that some of us are distrustful of parliamentary norms when a crucial diplomatic accord like Oslo II is decided by a majority of one, with two of the votes (Gonen Segev and Alecs Goldfarb of Tsomet) bought at the last minute for cabinet posts? Can you imagine what would of ensued had Netanyahu attempted to legislate the annexation of Judea and Samaria by a majority of one — after enticing two Labor MKs over to his side with plum positions?
Remember Barak’s early campaign slogans which slurred entire segments of our society? “Money to development towns, not to the haredim. Cash for the students, not the settlements”. The right-wing could never get away, without press and legal penalty, with sloganeering so blatantly libelous and offensive.
Could it be that Israeli law enforcement appears partisan when Zo Artzeinu demonstrators blocking roads are roughly arrested, quickly charged with “insurrection” (!) and convicted in record time? The truck drivers, the handicapped and university students can tie-up traffic in Jerusalem and the entire Gush Dan for days with fortified barricades on the highways – and nothing happens. I think several truck divers were lightly fined.
Our “impartial” Supreme Court has a learned opinion on, and self-arrogated jurisdiction over, everything. Justice Barak and company have no compunctions about telling Jerusalemites what streets can and cannot be closed on Shabbat and at what times; which generals ought to, and ought not to, be promoted in the IDF; and what is the definition of a Jew. But when it comes to the Wafq’s heinous archaeological and political shenanigans on the Temple Mount — in clear violation of the law — suddenly Prof. Barak has no opinion and no jurisdiction.
Could it be that the notion of fair play essential to a democracy is eroded when Arutz 7 is hounded incessantly and violently raided by 270 armed policemen. (Islamic Jihad cells aren’t confronted with such force!) Abie Nathan’s leftist Voice of Peace station operated off a ship like Arutz 7 for decades and nobody dared attempt to shut it down. Even when the Knesset voted recently to fully license Arutz 7, the Attorney General stepped-in to declare the vote unconstitutional.
People holding public office in national institutions have a responsibility to forswear ugly, partisan polemics, whether from the right or left, correct? That explains why the religious officer in the army who said some odious things about the Reform Movement was summarily dismissed from his post and from service (correctly so), while Justice Oded Elyagon can call haredim parasites and leeches and get a *yasher koach* (“well done”) from the Chief Justice.
Could it be that a double standard in Israeli politics indeed has become exceedingly entrenched? Might it be, sadly, that lack of confidence in the fairness and rectitude of our democracy is justified?