Why I love Ari, Yuval, and Dede
by Jonathan Rosenblum
April 30, 1999
Conor Cruise O'Brien once defined an intellectual as someone who is prepared to admit when someone else has made a point in a debate. By that standard, intellectuals are an endangered species in Israel.
Every event is immediately pressed into service for some partisan purpose.
In place of analysis, we have only the political consultants' criterion: How can this be used to hurt my enemy?
Argument is driven not by reasoning from first principles, but by whose ox is gored. I wonder, for instance, how many who cheered the Supreme Court's overturning of draft deferments for yeshiva students realized that its ruling mandates the same result for Israeli Arabs. If a deferment for 8% of the draft cohort is beyond the power of Defense Minister, surely a lifetime exemption for 20% of the population is too.
Meretz and others on the Left, for whom the concept of a 'nation of its citizens" has become enshrined as dogma, cannot argue with consistency that Jews are to be held to a higher standards of service by the state. And if they wish to argue that Arabs should not be forced to serve a state whose very existence they view as an affront, they have completely undermined the basis of Arab citizenship.
Take another recent example of the failure to hold consistently to principles. Many of those who believe that any punishment short of being drawn and quartered was too mild for Brig.-Gen. Nir Galili had just months earlier sneered at the puritanical House Republicans impeaching President Clinton.
Yet the argument that sexual relations between a vastly older man and a young woman under his command are inherently coerced allows no meaningful distinction between Clinton's actions and those for which Galili is now twice punished, even though he at least did not perjure himself.
At stake is more than just a lack of intellectual clarity. The unwillingness to adhere to any a priori principles explains why Israel lacks any serious civil liberties movement. The Left views itself as champions of civil liberties, yet somehow they are always the ones calling for closing down newspapers and prosecutions for incitement. One wonders whether the same people who demanded the expulsion of Meir Kahane from the Knesset and the banning of his party as 'racist,' could find a single statement about haredim they would deem beyond the pale.
The refusal to follow any principle other than, 'Whatever hurts my enemy is good,' poisons the national debate. There is no discussion, only shouting. Every argument becomes a fight to the death, in which the very humanity of the opponent is called into question. The ugly, blustering Tommy Lapid is, unfortunately, a too recognizable caricature of Israeli-style debate.
Ari Shavit is one Israeli who could meet O'Brien's definition of an intellectual. His essay 'Why We Hate Netanyahu,' in the December 25, 1997 Ha'aretz generated tremendous stir. He took aim at the cast of mind of his fellows on the Left, accusing Israel's cultural elites of 'totalitarian, self assurance." The belief that 'our truth is the only truth,' he wrote, has led the cultural elites to use 'whatever influence we can muster as referees [in the democratic process debate], reporters, and commentators to influence the game in our favor--to do whatever it takes to ensure our final victory [and] to vanguish once and for all the Sons of Darkness on the opposing team."
In a subsequent piece, he attributed the failure of the Left to win the support of the majority of the population not to the stupidity or ignorance or fascistic tendencies of the public, but to its recognition of the dangerous messianism of the elites. The majority of Israelis, he argued, had simply lost confidence in the 'seriousness" of those whose 'automatic response to any withdrawal is applause and to any pause in withdrawal catcalls,' and in 'their ability to think clearly [and] to deal with reality."
I know nothing of Shavit's views on any subject. But as soon I read his piece, I had an overwhelming urge to meet him. Here, I felt, was someone with whom it would be possible to talk even in the face of disagreement.
Apparently, I was not alone. Shavit reported countless emotional phone calls to his house from those to whom he had given expression, even as he was cast out by the Left for the sin of having 'helped" Netanyahu. Most Israelis, it seems, would prefer talking to one another to the current competition in demonization.
Yuval Steinitz's contribution to Azure's symposium on The Jewish State: The Next Fifty Years inspired the same reaction as Shavit's essay: Here is someone whom one would like to know and with whom intellectual debate is possible. Steinitz describes himself as a 'pig-eater." Yet his essay is a philosophical attack on the assumption that religiously-based legislation and religious parties are an inherent threat to democracy. (The better question is whether the religious parties are a threat to religion.)
That assumption runs right up to the Supreme Court. Thus, in striking down a regulatory ban on the importation of non-kosher meat, Justice Barak opined, 'Israel is a democracy not a theocracy." By such reasoning, Steinitz argues, a ban on the sale of pork is impermissible, but prohibiting the sale of whale meat on ecological grounds unobjectionable.
The closure of Dizengoff on Saturday for commercial reasons is permissible, but not the closure of Bar Ilan Street. Yet to favor laws having their source in secular ideologies over those based on religious beliefs is both intellectually untenable and the very antithesis of democracy.
When I read Steinitz's article, he was, as far as I knew, an obscure academic, with a razor sharp mind. Only later did I learn the extent of his intellectual honesty and willingness to examine his philosophical premises from scratch. Despite carrying around shrapnel in his leg as a consequence of having been next to Emil Grunzweig at a Peace Now demonstration when the latter was murdered, he is now principal drafter of the Likud platform.
And finally, for the Dede of the title. I doubt Dede Zucker and I will be meeting soon at any trance music parties. But his willingness to defend the closure of Bar Ilan Street on the basis of his views on neighborhood autonomy commands respect. He's someone else I'd like to meet.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
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