A collection of the week's news from Israel
7 Shvat5760 News...
January 14, 2000
Issue number 254
New Elections to Bypass Referendum?
The Prime Minister's Office is considering the option of calling new general elections, instead of holding a referendum on the Golan. A victory in the election would give Barak a mandate to withdraw from the Golan, writes Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman in today's HaTzofeh [and allow him to pass a new law rescinding the requirement for a popular referendum - ed. note]. A committee has been established to look into this option, in light of surveys show decreasing support for a Golan withdrawal. "General elections have some significant advantages for Barak," writes Huberman. "Quite notably, there is no one heading the opposition camp at present who will be able to run against Barak. Ariel Sharon, unfortunately, is considered no longer able to garner massive support." (arutzsheva.org Jan 12)
Fighting the Division of Jerusalem
The Palestinian Authority has completed the construction of what is to serve as its parliament in Abu Dis, just east of Jerusalem. A small portion of the building is located within Israeli sovereign territory. The Palestinians claim that Israel has already agreed to include Abu Dis in the next withdrawal, scheduled for next week. . (arutzsheva.org Jan 9)
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Chaim Ramon visited Gush Etzion, Karmei Tzur, and Kiryat Arba Tuesday. While in Gush Etzion, Ramon said that the Barak government is "fighting" to ensure that the Gush Etzion region, and other settlement blocs in Yesha, do not end up in Palestinian hands in the final-status arrangements. In response to a question about the future status of Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem, Ramon said that the area would in the end be taken over by the "Palestinian entity" that would be formed. (A7 Jan 11)
A forum of Jerusalem-area municipal leaders convened Tuesday night in Ma'aleh Adumim, kicking off the struggle against an Israeli withdrawal from areas north and east of Jerusalem. The Israeli delegation to the final-status talks with the Palestinians has reportedly agreed to transfer Arab-populated suburbs of Jerusalem to the PA. Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, Yesha Council Chairman and founder of the forum, declared that Ehud Barak would not be able to ignore the objections of 65,000 Jewish residents of the Jerusalem periphery, not to mention those of the residents of Jerusalem itself: "If we don't work together, we will lose the battle, and we will regret it for a long time to come. But if we work together - and we only have less than two months to act - we can win!" The members, including the mayors of Givat Ze'ev, Gush Etzion, Beitar, Adam, and others, plan to involve the entire nation in the struggle against the division of Jerusalem. Efrat Regional Council Chairman Yinon Achiman talked about the complete freeze on new building plans in Jewish communities surrounding Jerusalem: "We have never known such terrible decrees... All expansion plans been frozen - residents of communities like Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Efrat, and Beitar are permitted to build only balconies!" Anatot secretary Shimon Shimon told Arutz-7 that he thought "that Barak, as a security-minded person, would attend to the needs of Israelis - and now I'm not sure whether I acted correctly in voting for him." Active concern about Palestinian infiltration into Jerusalem is shared in hareidi circles, as well. Ramat Shlomo, a mostly-hareidi neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, borders two of the Arab neighborhoods to be handed over to the PA - Shu'afat and Beit Hanina. Ramat Shlomo administration head Chaim Mordechai Weiner said that his community is only "a stone's throw" away from, and practically adjoins, what are scheduled to be the new PA-controlled neighborhoods. Weiner noted that the Jerusalem neighborhoods of French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Ramot and N'vei Yaakov will also find themselves "uncomfortably close to localities controlled by the PA military - and that's only in the north. In the south, the handing-over of Abu Dis to the PA will harm the Jewish presence in the Old City, Talpiot, Armon HaNetziv, Gilo, Katamon, and more. "Simply put, we are against the division of Jerusalem and the return to the 1967 borders. This time, Israel is in a worse position than before the Six-Day War - facing a heavily-armed Palestinian entity with its eyes set on a state with Jerusalem as its capital! The situation is very dangerous, and could lead to the eventual dismantling of the State." What does Weiner plan to do about the matter? "First of all, I spent a whole week just trying to convince public figures, media personalities and the like, of the gravity of what is about to happen. They scoffed at me, thought I was crazy - until mainstream journalists began writing about it." Weiner also said, without elaborating on the details, that he has received the blessing of prominent hareidi rabbis to begin "drastic measures, both collectively and individually - all within the law" to fight the abandonment of Jerusalem suburbs to the Arabs. (arutzsheva.org Jan 12)
Israel’s Largest Rally Ever Opposes Golan Giveaway
Between a quarter and a half of a million people - depending on which estimate is used - took part in what was probably the largest demonstration in Israeli history Monday night, calling on Prime Minister Barak not to sign an agreement involving an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The main boulevard leading to the rally was blocked with people up to a kilometer away. Speakers representing many different public sectors told Barak that the tremendous costs of the withdrawal would come at the expense of the lower and middle classes, told Clinton not to intervene, and announced that they would not allow the glorious settlement enterprise in the Golan to be destroyed. A Russian immigrant, speaking in Russian, emotionally told the crowds that the Golan is "everything" for him, and repeated several times, "Ya ne oydu z'Golan" - "I am not leaving the Golan!" Yehuda Harel, termed the "father of Golan settlement," looked out at the giant cheering audience and said, "Today, we have stopped the withdrawal from the Golan!" Katzrin Mayor Sammy Bar-Lev, the evening's M.C., was delighted with demonstration. Speaking with Arutz-7 today, Bar-Lev noted the "rich cross-section of Israeli society [that was] represented there: religious and secular, old and young, native Israelis and immigrants." He said that he hopes Prime Minister Barak will stop and re-think the negotiations with Syria: "Destroying a community of 7,000 citizens [Katzrin] is no small matter. And what is Barak being offered in return? Not even real peace - only 'security arrangements' with a dictatorial regime! We have had fine security arrangements in the Golan for 33 years now." Following are some excerpts from last night's speeches:
Although it downplayed the size of the crowd, Israel's written media could not ignore the sheer power of the event. Self-proclaimed left-leaning journalist Nachum Barnea writes in today's Yediot Acharonot: "There is no purpose to nit-pick about the numbers [that attended] - this was simply one of the most impressive demonstrations in the history of Rabin Square." Describing the crowd that participated, Barnea writes, "[In addition to the right-wingers,] there were others who were identifiable as Barak supporters: secular Jews, residents of agricultural communities, Labor and Centrist party voters. These were the type of people who joined the masses in the Square on election night to celebrate Barak's victory and Netanyahu's defeat." How should Ehud Barak respond to the protest? Barnea: "He must not ignore the facts. The renewing of negotiations with Syria has not inspired the type of joy that overtook the country with the initiative of Egypt's Anwar Sadat [in 1977]... From the beginning, support for the talks with Syria was restrained, and in the last few weeks, it has only decreased... The problem is not only Barak's. All of the participants in the Shepherdstown day-camp must take the situation into account, from Clinton to A-Shara." Middle East analyst Dr. Guy Bechor agrees. Speaking with Arutz-7 Tuesday, Bechor noted that President Clinton had no choice but to take a break and call an urgent meeting next week of the Israeli and Syrian delegations. "There is a crisis of authority here," Bechor said. "It is quite clear that A-Shara is merely a clerk, a messenger of Assad. A-Shara has no real power to strike an agreement. This stands in sharp contrast to previous negotiations between Begin and Sadat, Rabin and Hussein, and the like - who were real leaders with the authority to make independent decisions. Barak, too, faces a crisis of authority. He left the country when the 'street' was docile, but of late, things have changed course with the formation of new public and political pro-Golan coalitions. For Barak, this is a new, somewhat overwhelming phenomenon, and he is limited in that even if he does sign a deal, he is dependent on the Knesset and the public for approval." Regarding Assad's reaction to the rally, Bechor said, "He certainly saw the clips of the demonstration. Assad has a real business mind. He knows that signing a deal with Israel would be interpreted as the formal cessation of the conflict between Syria and Israel. But he is well aware that Barak may not win the referendum, in which case Assad may conclude that he could experience a double defeat after all is said and done: he will fail to get control of the Golan, yet his entire raison d'etre - namely, Syria's state of hostility with Israel - will have been shattered." (arutzsheva.org Jan 11)
Forgive And Forget
The Ministry of Public Security recommends 'pardoning' the Chief of the Palestinian para-military police, Razi Jabali. A document submitted to the Justice Ministry and the Prime Minister's office states that it is advisable to drop the charges against Jabali, who gave the orders to a terrorist cell to murder residents of the Yesha communities of Elon Moreh and Har Bracha over two years ago. Itim news agency reports that the Public Security Ministry's recommendation comes in the wake of a request by Judea and Samaria Police Commander Yitzchak Aharonovitch, who has complained that the ban on dealing with Jabali makes it very difficult to maintain close contacts between the Israel Police and the Palestinian para-military police. (arutzsheva.org Jan 11)
New Palestinian Demands
Another Palestinian demand in the final-status talks is that Israel rid itself of its nuclear capabilities. Israeli sources claim that the demand is an Egyptian initiative, as Egypt has been waging a struggle against Israeli nuclear capabilities for years. In addition, the government is conducting "advanced negotiations" with the PA on the entry of 2000 Fatah terrorists from Lebanon to PA areas. (arutzsheva.org Jan 9)
Peres Waiting Patiently
Former State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat said that she sees no alternative for President Weizman other than to resign. "His silence on the affair for this long detracts from the trust the public has placed in him," she said. A Channel Two television survey has found that 70% of the respondents feel that Weizman must resign. Weizman has not denied receiving nearly half-a-million dollars in gifts from French millionaire Edouard Sarousi. Sarousi also donated $6.5 million to Weizman's short-lived Yachad party. Shimon Peres continues to be mentioned as the favored candidate to replace Weizman. (arutzsheva.org Jan 9)
Rain Raises Kinneret
The level of the Kinneret stands today at 213.12 meters below sea level, ten centimeters higher than it was last week. This is still 12 centimeters below the official "red line," and some five meters below the optimal level. Each centimeter represents 1.7 million cubic meters of water.(A7 Jan 11)
Israel's press is turning a blind eye to the archaeological damage on the Temple Mount. So says archaeology student Tzachi Tzveig, who organized last Thursday's demonstration of senior archaeologists in the Kidron Valley. He told Arutz-7 about the recent rally sponsored by Zo Artzeinu, "which attracted 5,000 people who protested the Waqf's desecration of the Temple Mount. Everyone who was there saw the plethora of reporters and television
cameras. Yet the next day's papers totally ignored it! Then came last Thursday's 30-person demonstration, including seven very senior archaeologists. Again, there were many reporters, including foreign and local news services, but neither of the two major morning papers mentioned that the protest even took place. I found out that a journalist from Yediot Acharonot had prepared a lengthy article on the event, but his editor decided not to publish it." Tzveig said that originally, "Dr. Dan Bahat reported that the Moslem Waqf's excavations on the Temple Mount mainly affected recent layers, but caused only minimal damage to more ancient layers. Although I respect his opinion, he is a lone voice within the country's archaeologist community. Despite this, his view was widely-quoted, and he was given substantial air-time." Tzveig said that his and his colleagues' later examinations of the Kidron Valley dumping site revealed that Bahat had significantly underestimated the damage caused to First and Second Temple-era artifacts. Tzveig presented these findings at an annual convention at Bar-Ilan University three weeks ago, causing "a great uproar in archaeologists' circles, including much anger at the Antiquities Authority. Here, too, an article that was prepared for Yediot was not published... The Authority, for its part, responded harshly for my not having released the details in a more closed forum." (arutzsheva.org Jan 9)
The gravestone of Dov Dribben, who was murdered by Arabs in Maon almost two years ago, was vandalized this week. In addition, 50 dunams (12 acres) worth of trees were uprooted, and much agricultural equipment was stolen. The soldiers who were supposed to be guarding the site - were not. Yesha leaders said that residents in their communities feel "abandoned" following the decision by Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh to cut back on the number of soldiers guarding the towns. Sneh's response: "Chutzpah and brazenness." (arutzsheva.org Jan 9)
Deputy Education Minister Sha'ul Yahalom (National Religious Party) announced a new program initiated by his office, in which every school in Israel would "adopt" a Jewish school in the Diaspora. The students of the school-twin would maintain regular educational and social contacts between them. (arutzsheva.org Jan 9)
Report: Mossad Has Assad Urine Sample Indicating He's "Living on Borrowed Time"
The Mossad acquired a urine sample for medical analysis from Syrian leader Hafez Assad and Israeli medical specialists have concluded he is "living on borrowed time," according to the London Sunday Times Sunday. The sample was taken in a specially constructed lavatory that was created exclusively for Assad's use when he visited Jordan for the funeral of the late King Hussein last February. The toilet's urinal pipes led not to a drain but to a specimen jar. Assad is known to have suffered a heart attack and to be suffering from diabetes and cancer. According to an article in the London Sunday Times Sunday, the sample, which was analyzed at Tel Hashomer Hospital, would have confirmed the state of his diabetes and indicated the presence of cancer in his urinary tract. "More importantly," said the paper, "the Israeli pathologists and biochemists who analyzed the sample would have detected traces of whatever drugs the president was taking for his litany of ailments. The paper quoted an aide to Prime Minister Ehud Barak as saying: "We should do everything possible to reach an agreement while Assad is alive. Nobody knows what will happen after Assad. There are some gloomy assessments about a possible bloodbath in Syria. Assad is a man you can trust to stand by his word." A medical file prepared for Barak by the Mossad and military intelligence analysts reportedly described Assad's condition as worsening and suggested he is now so incapacitated that he could work for no more than a few hours a day. The Mossad sought to play down its role in the affair, describing the collection of the urine sample as a routine operation for a special unit known as Keshet. (Jerusalem Post Jan 10)
Don't Butt In By William Safire
The great temptation for President Clinton, host of the Syria-Israel semi-summit in Shepherdstown, is to try to force a deal by making promises on which he will not be around to deliver.
His eagerness to bring the two antagonists to agreement is understandable. First, it is traditional for the U.S. to facilitate such talks. Second, Clinton surely yearns for a peacemaking "legacy." And a pre-election "October surprise" of a comprehensive peace -- complete with signing ceremony at the White House providing a boost to senatorial candidate Hillary -- adds a practical incentive.
For all three motives -- selfless, historical and personal -- the heat is on to be peacemaker. However, his desire to bridge the gap between Israel and Syria may induce him to give guarantees that would lead only to a paper peace. Prime Minister Ehud Barak, reportedly willing to give up Israel's commanding position on the Golan Heights, expects a peace treaty, water rights and, most important, "security guarantees." That phrase means an American force of some kind to act as observer, tripwire or border patrol.
The notion of putting U.S. troops on the Golan was a bad idea when Yitzhak Rabin took it up in 1994. When I remonstrated with him, he insisted: "The whole idea was Bush and Baker's. They proposed a whole division."
Secretary of State James Baker's aide, Dennis Ross, demurred at that number, but now Brent Scowcroft, President Bush's national security adviser, writes, "it would be unacceptable to deploy a token force or an unarmed peacekeeping presence that could be easily brushed aside in a crisis." If needed for a settlement, "the United States should be prepared to deploy combat units . . . to use force against any attempted armed incursion."
The only idea worse than unarmed U.S. "monitors" atop Mount Herman, helpless to avert or even report attack, is a permanent American armed force, vulnerable to the sort of terror attacks that drove U.S. marines out of Lebanon.
Our commitment to our ally Israel has long been to provide it the qualitative edge in modern weaponry. The Israelis generations ago won the respect of Americans by their willingness to defend themselves. Our strategic presence is strengthened by our tactical absence.
A brave self-reliance also gave Israel the power to strike pre-emptively when disaster loomed, without asking any other nation's permission. Is Israel now willing to share its survival decisions with future American presidents, or French presidents, or U.N. officials?
Mr. Barak is asking for that "contingent" of Americans atop the Golan to help him sell the pullout to his public. The false sense of security will help him gain support in a referendum. Mr. Clinton is inclined to promise that his successors will send and maintain that border force because he needs to close the deal.
The second element of peacemaking, in the Clinton approach, is underwriting the costs of the removal and resettlement of 17,000 Israelis who mistakenly believed assurances that the Golan was essential to Israel's defense. This is to be added to the U.S. subsidies to be granted Palestinian leaders to close that end of the comprehensive peacemaking.
American foreign aid going to Egypt and Israel since the Camp David accords two decades ago now totals $100 billion. Is this the sort of financial commitment being given to Israel and Syria by Clinton in Shepherdstown?
This may not be the kind of outlay that this Congress will approve, or that future Congresses will continue. The Syrian regime would have to change mightily to attract any sort of U.S. investment. The Barak government has not yet replied to a November letter from the Senate Foreign Relations chairman, Jesse Helms, asking about sale of AWAC's technology to Beijing that threatens Taiwan.
A peace negotiation that relies at the outset on the uncertain patrolling of foreign nationals and the iffy support of foreign money is not likely to lead to agreement that will stand the test of time. A deal that counts on outside policing and subsidy encourages the principals to avoid reality.
Clinton should facilitate, not intervene with fast-souring sweeteners. He should press Syria and Israel to make peace with each other and not with him. (New York Times Jan 10)
Danger: Groupthink By Gerald M. Steinberg
In August 1993, when the late Prime Minister Rabin first presented the Oslo Declaration of Principles to the government, there was almost unanimous enthusiasm. The ministers in the Cabinet cheered this major historic achievement, and basked in the shared glory. The only dissent was voiced by Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, head of the IDF and Mr. Rabin's protege. Barak pointed to the holes in the agreement, and in particular, the absence of a clear Israeli concept of permanent status, and of the potential for continued Palestinian support for terror. A few years later, Barak, who had left the army and become a minister, was the only cabinet member to withhold approval of the Cairo agreement. Barak, of course, turned out to be right.
Is there anyone around the table to challenge Prime Minister Barak in negotiations with the Syrians? The political opposition is too weak and divided to play this role. To be effective, the questions must come from within the government or the professionals in the military/security establishment.
The evidence here is not good. More than ever, the Israel negotiating team seems to be characterized by group-think, a phenomenon that allows intelligent individuals to substitute agreement for analysis. When people of very similar backgrounds and experiences get together to consider an issue, they are subject to a number of factors that work against rational decision making, and as a result, simplistic formulae replace complex reality.
Information is filtered through distorted lenses, and data that contradict the prevailing conception ("conceptzia in Hebrew") do not register. Analysts who raise alternative scenarios are dismissed as being motivated by ideological or political considerations.
The term "conceptzia" entered the Israeli lexicon after the debacle of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. A few days earlier, most generals, politicians, and strategic analysts were so confident of their ability to predict the actions of Egypt and Syria, that they dismissed all the signs of mobilization and preparations for attack. Of course, the military and political situation now is very different, but the problem of groupthink remains. (Three years ago, the military establishment agreed that a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon was impossible.)
The evidence for group think in the negotiations with Syria is pervasive. For example, the dominant assumption is that after Assad and after a peace treaty, Syria will become a more open society, and the ideological hostility towards Israel will be replaced by the drive to modernize and make money. This is desirable, and even logical, but there is no evidence or way of testing its validity. Twenty years after the peace treaty with Egypt, the social and economic implications, if any, are still unclear.
Similarly, the Israeli position in the Syrian negotiations (the "conceptzia") is dependent on a very positive assessment of the future American- Israeli relationship. For the Israeli military, the road to Damascus goes through Washington, and to compensate for the substantial security risks, the IDF expects to receive a package of satellite and airborne early warning systems, advanced conventional military technology, and accelerated missile defense research.
Cost estimates range from $10 billion to $30 billion, which, even for the "rich Americans" is not small change. Although Mr. Clinton is likely to agree, the military assistance package for Israel must also be approved by Congress, which has not had a very positive approach to Mr. Clinton and his foreign policy.
The type of cooperation being considered requires long-term American commitments, while budgets are approved on an annual basis. There are many credible scenarios in which conflicting policies, priorities, or other factors could disrupt long term military agreements between Israel and the U.S. The problem is that in an atmosphere of group-think, the alternative and less positive scenarios are apparently not being considered.
According to press reports, Barak and the Ministry of Defense are even willing to accept the possibility of American assistance in modernizing the Syrian army. The dangers are illustrated in the case of Egypt, and to avoid a repeat performance, the U.S. is reportedly promising to insure Israeli superiority. However, 25 year ago, Henry Kissinger also pledged to maintain Israel's qualitative edge, in the context of withdrawal negotiations with Egypt. However, when Presidents Carter and Reagan decided to sell AWACS and F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia, the Israelis suddenly realized that they had different interpretations of the promise. This does not mean that the U.S. is unreliable, but it should serve as an antidote to the enthusiasm engendered by group-think.
In this environment, the public may have to play the role that Mr. Barak filled earlier in his career. Among the Israeli public, the blind enthusiasm that greeted the 1993 agreement the Palestinians has long since been replaced by sober reality. When the negotiated agreement with Syria is presented for approval in a referendum, each of the prevailing assumptions will be dissected in detail. If Barak and his team do their job professionally and do not allow political or emotional factors to dominate, the Israeli people will endorse the draft. At the same time, no slogans, billboards and public relations techniques will be able to mask fundamental defects in the proposed treaty. (Jerusalem Post Jan 7)
Billions to Ease the Pain By Yosef Goell
It will be possible to reach a much cheaper and no less effective deal with Syria - after Assad is gone.
Something good is coming out of Shepherdstown: We can now see more clearly why we feel these talks with Syria are so futile.
In a presidential election year, the American public is very likely to say no to a basic assumption of the talks. And if and when this happens, there will be no need for a referendum.
We are told that a deal with Assad will greatly enhance our security, despite the "wrenchingly painful" ceding of the Golan to Syria. But what will it cost to trade a proven security advantage - possession of the Golan has made that border Israel's quietest for 25 years - for massive American military aid?
Just a few days ago, the bill to be presented to the Americans was a fantastic $17.4 billion. Now Ze'ev Schiff, our most respected military analyst and hardly a hawk on these issues, writes in a front-page report in last Friday's Ha'aretz that the sum is $65b.-$70b.
The $17.4b. sum would compensate us only for the strategic disadvantages entailed in the withdrawal from the Golan and the security zone in Lebanon. It is to cover relocation of IDF bases and facilities from these areas into Israel and enhancement of vital Intelligence and anti-missile capabilities.
It does not include major modernization of the IDF, on which the claim of "enhanced overall Israeli security" is based.
The much larger sum cited by Schiff would also cover removing settlements from the Golan and from Judea and Samaria, major security arrangements as a substitute for Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria, and desalination to replace lost water resources.
Even this astronomical sum does not include the claims of the Syrians, Palestinians, and Jordanians for multibillion-dollar American aid in payment for their making peace with Israel. One of the leaks from the Israeli delegation to Shepherdstown is that Israel would not oppose American aid to rebuild and modernize the Syrian armed forces, on condition that the US guarantee Israel's continued qualitative military superiority.
This is a repetition of the madness of the multibillion-dollar rebuilding and modernizing of the Egyptian armed forces by the US as part of the Egypt-Israel "peace treaty." As a result of that commitment, of course, the US had to increase military aid to Israel.
The $70b. does not include the cost of resettling the Palestinian refugees, without which there is little hope of turning a partial non-belligerency deal in a true, lasting peace.
One of the drollest tidbits in Schiff's report is that "one of the internal instructions [among the Israeli circles preparing these claims] is to avoid presenting the Americans inflated claims to aid so as not to stun them."
But there is no way the US Congress (and in an election year, the US taxpayer) would, or should, agree to foot such bills.
President Clinton has been a lame duck president since Monica-gate, and the next few months, by which time the presidential election will be in full swing, provide no "window of opportunity" for such a commitment.
The great danger for Israel is that basing its negotiating stance on such astronomical claims on the US could undermine the Americans' deep-seated political and popular support for Israel in its conflict with the Arab and Moslem worlds.
A large part of these costs derives from Assad's ultimative demand that we withdraw from the Golan. It will be possible to reach a much cheaper and no less effective partial nonbelligerency deal with Syria - after Assad is gone.
(Jerusalem Post Jan 10)
Clinton "Working Paper" Used To Protect Barak From Criticism
By Aaron Lerner
President Clinton’s "working paper" summarizing the positions of Israel and Syria accomplished two important achievements:
Dangerous Double Standards By David Weinberg
Israeli democracy is imperiled by a growing and justified vote of no- confidence in the probity of our politics.
Recent surveys published by the Israel Democracy Institute show that significant segments of the 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's see. Could it be that many right-wing Israelis see a double standard in the way the police and the press have treated Binyamin Netanyahu viciously since he left office, as opposed to the kid-gloves treatment now accorded to President Ezer 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 Nava 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 Ehud Barak's leftist government?
Barak had a Basic Law changed 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," they said. The right-wing could never get away, without press and legal penalty, with sloganeering so blatantly libellous 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. Court President Aharon 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 Wakf's heinous archeological and political shenanigans on the Temple Mount - in clear violation of the law - suddenly Justice 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 (correctly so), while Judge 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? (Jerusalem Post Jan 9)