by Jonathan Rosenblum
November 9, 2003
This is a slightly modified version of the article, which appeared in the Jerusalem Post.
The anniversary of the Rabin assassination invariably triggers countless laments over the state of Israeli democracy. Last Thursday, for instance, one talk show discussed a recent poll showing that a majority of Israelis value a strong leader more than democracy. Such surveys prove, in the eyes of Israel’s elites, that the hoi polloi are no more fit for self-rule than they were thought to be in ancient Athens.
Rather than pointing fingers, however, our cultural elite should consider its own role in devaluing democracy. By cynically manipulating the terms "democracy" and the "rule of law, " they have convinced most Israelis that these concepts are mere covers for the preservation of elite power. The old elites, as Professor Ruth Gavison told Ari Shavit nearly four years ago, "aggrandize the power of the Supreme Court . . . to curb the democratization of [Israeli society]."
The settlements are often portrayed as hothouses for the nurture of violent proto-fascists. Yet those eager to place the settlers outside of the realm of legitimate opinion are not exactly disciples of John Stuart Mills’ free marketplace of ideas themselves. In no other democratic country do the cultural elites expend so much energy attempting to suppress opinions with which they disagree.
Israel’s self-styled civil libertarians manifest more concern that too much information might confuse the lower orders than with the public’s right to know. Thus the "open-skies" policy for the allocation of the radio band advocated by the 1997 Peled Commission was never implemented. Thus Professor Mordechai Kreminitzer, chairman of the Israeli Press Association, who once decried the bombing of Radio Palestine as an infringement of press freedom, sees no need for a station like Arutz-7.
Like Yossi Sarid, who opposes "sectoral" stations, Kremnitzer dismisses the perception of hundreds of thousands of Israelis that Israel Radio and Army Radio, which maintain a monopoly on radio news, are themselves sectoral stations, representing the views of the cultural elite to which Kremnitzer and Sarid belong.
Also accused of having failed to absorb democratic values are Jews hailing from Arab lands. Yet can one blame them for being skeptical of the "rule of law" when they compare the enormous resources devoted to the prosecution of Aryeh Deri to the lackluster investigation of the 1999 Barak election campaign.
MK Yitzchak Herzog, who orchestrated the campaign’s use of non-profits organizations, claims that what State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg dubbed "the greatest election scam ever" was perfectly legal. But if so, why did he create dozens of fictitious non-profits, which issued fake receipts, and why did he refuse to answer police investigators and urge other witnesses to forget certain conversations?
As Professor Gavison has said, the accumulation of cases has simply grown too large to convincingly deny that there is "an element of persecution" – i.e., discrimination -- in the criminal justice system. Consider Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein’s closing of the file on Meretz whip Zehav Gal-On, despite a police recommendation to prosecute. Gal-On was charged with having defrauded, as the director of the Center for Peace, the EU of 80,000 shekels in the form of funding for a conference that never took place. Despite the testimony of one witness that Gal-On ordered the preparation of the false report on the conference and that of another that she requested fraudulent price estimates to retroactively support the false report, and despite Rubinstein’s own acknowledgment of Gal-On’s involvement, he declined to prosecute "for lack of evidence."
The Supreme Court, the State Attorney’s office, and the media view themselves as a holy troika defending democratic values against the barbarians at the gate. But Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein's report on Chief of Criminal Investigations Moshe Mizrahi raises the age-old question: Who will guard the guardians?
Three years after allegations against Mizrahi first surfaced, Attorney-General Rubinstein now confirms that Mizrahi maintained massive dossiers marked "political" of material collected in the course of wiretaps of leading politicians. That material included political polls commissioned by parties and discussions of political strategy. In addition, Mizrahi, an Israeli version of J. Edgar Hoover, ordered the filming of intimate sexual encounters and retained the pictures.
Nevertheless Mizrahi has received continued support from State Attorney Edna Arbel and leading journalists. Arbel originally recommended against investigating Mizrahi, and last week, after Rubinstein called for his dismissal, her letter disputing her superior’s recommendation was leaked.
Readers of Ha’aretz, the self-styled paper "for those who think," could have learned almost nothing of the Attorney-General’s report. Ha’aretz devoted more copy to Arbel’s defense of Mizrahi than to Rubinstein’s 68-page report. A reader of Ha’aretz would never have known that Mizrahi hid from his superiors the existence of the political files, or that those he ordered to transcribe the wiretaps repeatedly complained that the transcriptions went far beyond the scope of court orders, or that material from Mizrahi's files appeared in the reporting of Yediot's Mordechai Gilat (who now touts Mizrahi for the Israel Prize).
Nor would readers have known of Mizrahi’s refusal to answer investigators’ questions. (Perhaps Ha'aretz did not wish to confuse readers familiar with its calls for the scalps of public figures on the Right of the political spectrum who invoked their right to remain silent.)
Abandoning the traditional civil libertarian solicitude for personal privacy and concern with encroaching government, Ha'aretz demanded that Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki and Interior Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi hasten to express their full confidence in "the system."
Surveying this spectacle, it is hard to gainsay the conclusion of Maariv editor Amnon Dankner: "In Israeli public life, it is no longer important what you do, but to which club you belong." Nothing, however, undermines the public trust democracy requires faster than the feeling that the playing field is uneven and one side gets to make all the rules.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
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