Wednesday, December 31, 1997

The Lebanon Discussion in Israeli Society and in the Israeli Peace Movement

Israeli losses in Lebanon have created pressure on the government and other advocates of the IDF presence in the misnamed “security zone.” The pressure has even served as the background for the development of new forms of protest by women, especially mothers of soldiers serving in Lebanon. Public opinion is thus divided along two sharp lines: those supporting a unilateral withdrawal and those defending the status quo.The lines of the argument are clear and revolve around the question as to whether the said retreat will encourage the Hezbollah to utilize the tactical advantages stemming from the IDF retreat in order to launch bigger and better attacks on the Israeli communities in the north.
A Number of General Considerations
The current discussion, with its narrow tactical focus, leads to some sort of built-in draw. The whole argument of “what will the Syrians do” and “what will the Hizballah do” is based on the premise that the Lebanese issue can be treated in isolation from the battle to overcome the historical roots of Israeli strategic thinking as part of the struggle for an Israeli policy that can lead to a comprehensive peace.
I The Israeli Presence in Lebanon
The propensity to disregard the importance of Arab sovereignty over Arab land.This not a totally decisive element, especially when our opponents talk in militar-technical terms. But certainly, given a need to choose between options, it is certainly important to state that the flippant attitude that denies that this is a problem is part and parcel of the conservative thought patterns the are blind to options asides from military response.
This kind of shallowness refuses to see the dangers involved in intervention in the internal affairs of Lebanon. Almost a thousand Israli deaths can be ascribed to the dangerous conception that Israel can determine the composition of the government in Beirut. Isn’t the TSADAL combination one of the remnants of this dangerous conception. Will we end up in another war in Lebanon to defend our defenders? Is it strange that Tsadal has political clout in the present discussion on the side of the status quo?Why Not A Negotiated Withdrawal?
The policies of the Netanyahu government are the main reason that a negotiated withdrawal (and its advantages) is not on the agenda.
1. Syria is important, but we all agree that the stalemate in the Syrian-Israeli relations stems from Israel’s intransigence regarding both the tactical question “from where to resume the negotiations” and the central question: illusions that Israel can have peace while keeping the Golan. Israel can demand and receive important security arrangments that will prevent the use of the Golan against it.
2. No serious efforts were ever made in the diplomatic field to reach a negotiated settlement on withdrawal with the Hizballa – because of the hollow slogans that you cannot negotiate with terrorists.
In these circumstances, the present war in Lebanon is a continuation of the optional war that serves as its background. It is totally illogical to oppose the Netanyahu government which bears major responsibility for the suffocation of the peace process on all major fronts and ask the dove constitu
It is illogical to the point of being immoral to back Netanyahu in Lebanon, because his policies have created an overall stalemate that appears to have no solution.
Noting the negative effect of the policies of the Netanyahu government in creating a stalemate in the entire peace process, and noting the negative effect of these policies on progress in the Israeli-Syrian negotiation and noting the absence of any government initiative for a negotiated withdrawal from Lebanon:
Noting that Israeli soldiers are dying in futile war that cannot be won, PN-Jm calls for an early unilateral withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in order to defend Israel’ northern border from the international in conformity to international law, including Israel’s right of defense against aggression.

Monday, December 22, 1997

Bibi Seems to Be Getting Away with Murder

Benjamin Netanyahu has every reason to be satisfied with himself. He has consistently told his followers and his opponents that he can handle Madelyn Albright and her boss without any real problems. Right now it appears that Netanyahu is getting away with blatant, thinly disguised deception, by promising some sort of puny redeployment – 10% of West Bank territory – only, if his version of what he considers full Palestinian compliance to previous agreements is accepted as a first precondition for the withdrawal. Moreover, the Palestinians must agree to immediate commencement of discussions on the final status agreement. If all this happens according to the Netanyahu blueprint – Israel will consider performing the pullback 5 or 6 months down the road – if peace and quiet reign supreme.
Meanwhile, he has an invitation to the White House, where we are told, Bill Clinton, consummate politician that he is, has full understanding for Bibi Netanyahu’s coalition problems. Meanwhile, in order prepare himself for what is supposed to be some sort of ordeal, namely US pressure to make genuine steps towards peace and the fulfillment of the Oslo Accords, Netanyahu is busy making proclamations to the effect that the West Bank is part of Israel, and settlement activity will continue and even increase. Whatever Ms. Albright told Bibi, he has every right to appear to the Israeli public as if he has her and her boss under control.
According to the official US line, we are given to understand that the President of the United States is going to go make a serious diplomatic effort to get the Prime Minister of Israel to promise an inconsequential, highly tentative pull back on the West Bank. Since Clinton must succeed, the target is lowered to achieving one, single, not too consequential step – in the form of an extensive photo opportunity. Thus, Netanyahu’s basic strategy – delay and more delay – receives a tremendous boost from the United States which is supposed to be concerned that the peace process is, for all practical purposes, almost dead.
The United States is least of all concerned by the fact that they are ditching all the dove forces – including the most consistent pro-US elements in Israeli society - which are disgusted to see Netanyahu succeed in sabotaging the peace process. A central criticism of Netanyahu has been that his arrogant, nationalist policies will isolate the country and do serious damage to its basic interests. But if he is coddled by a “wishy-washy” United States administration which cooperates fully with has plans to bury the peace process – it is we in the peace camp who becomes, for the time being, the “unrealistic” and “panicky” element…
Yet Another Example of U.S. Arrogant Incompetence
It may well be that we are well on the way to experiencing another of the major U.S. policy blunders. U.S. power and wealth are such that the U.S. administration can always chose the line of least internal resistance in any major foreign policy question. Though it is almost inconceivable that the United States could have any genuine reason to abandon the pretence of acting like an honest broker in the area, the United States, it appears, the U.S. is afraid of getting into any quarrel with Netanyahu. The result is that new levels of violence and new rounds of bloodshed are around the corner. That’s what happens when peace is strangled and suffocated.
Of course, these words, create an opening for friends to remind us that we should never have had any illusions whatsoever regarding Oslo. The sad reply is that there is for the while no other alternative, and given the relevant prevailing balance of forces, any return to a chance for peace will take place under the same banner. Intelligent critics of Oslo know this well. They too, for this reason, can take little comfort in the degradation of the peace process, sponsored by the United States.
D.C. Darling
How very strange! Netanyahu is unable to command the loyalty of his party, he cannot keep his coalition in line, the Israeli economy is in the throes of a crisis and social-economic tensions are rising. Netanyahu is on a collision course with world Jewry. The Arab world has found him totally untrustworthy, Europe distrusts him – but Washington DC bends over backward to show its deep respect….

Saturday, July 19, 1997

Two Capitals in One United Jerusalem

Anyone faintly interested in an Israeli-Palestinian peace understands that this goal can be attained only if peace means, inter alia, sovereign Palestinian presence in Jerusalem. After Peace Now and the broad-based women’s peace movement, Bat Shalom had come out in support for the Two Capitals demand, it seemed rather strange that MERETZ was still hiding behind some vague formula on the Jerusalem issue. An initiative to update the MERETZ program, sponsored by MK’s Naomi Hazan, Dedi Zucker and other leading activists was beaten back, after party leader, MK Yossi Sarid attacked it. The vote was provisional (21 to 13) and a final decision is to be taken at a coming meeting of the MERETZ Council. Sarid’s argument against the suggested change was that it was a diversion from the urgent main task of ridding Israel of the Netanyahu government and he went so far as to claim that the proposed resolution would sabotage the peace process. Sarid did not explain why the new resolution would weaken the battle against Netanyahu…
Most of the knowledge that we have about Ehud Barak, the newly elected chair of the Labor Party, is hardly encouraging. However, Barak certainly took a step in the right direction two days after Sarid blocked the Two Capital resolution in MERETZ. Barak was roundly booed at a celebration marking 30 years of settlement on the Golan. After Netanyahu told the assembled crowd of Golan settlers just what they wanted to hear: We will win peace through strength, Ehud Barak repeated Rabin’s formula that the “depth of the withdrawal will be proportionate to the extent of the peace.” Barak who was loudly jeered since the formula raises the possibility of a full withdrawal for full-scale peace, told the assembly: “I suggest that you listen carefully. I did not come to spread illusions of a deluxe peace without compromises and moral dilemmas. There is no such thing.”(Ha’aretz, July 18, 197).
Were Barak to subscribe to Sarid’s logic, he might have continued to evade a clear statement against Netanyahu’s policy on the Golan, especially as the Golan is basically a Labor party constituency. The answer has been written large on the wall of Israeli politics ever since Rabin’s murder, if not before that: Labor had a credibility gap because it wanted the public to believe that peace was possible without real concessions by Israel. When it was time to talk business to the public and explain why peace was possible and how it could be attained, the Labor party started to hem and haw in order to convince voters that they would make less concessions than the Likud. This sad strategy of trying to fool the public instead of disclosing clear, honest and open leadership was one of the keys to Labor’s dismal failure at the polls in May 1996.
Now we will see if Barak follows Sarid’s lead and runs for cover, or if Sarid follows Barak’s lead and lifts his opposition to a long over due political change in the MERETZ program, which is necessary to dispel “illusions about a deluxe peace without compromises.”

Monday, July 14, 1997

Developments in the Israeli Communist Party

Note: the following is a personal analysis of the events described here. The formulations ascribed to others are my own and my own responsibility. Because the ideological confrontations, described here, were not fully developed or articulated, it was necessary to develop my own interpretation of different positions. I would have preferred to analyze official statements as to the debate and its scope, but these are still to emerge.. The Communist Party of Israel (MAKI) is of importance because it is heir to the rich - though complex - traditions of Israeli communism. No less importantly, MAKI is the founder and the main force in the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (DFPE). The DFPE actually doubled its vote in the last parliamentary election (May 1996) and holds five seats in the Israeli Knesset. In the form of the party or the front, MAKI is the largest, organized force in Israeli’s Palestinian Arab population. It is certainly of significance that MAKI continues, as in the past, to see the Arab-Jewish composition of the party as a major, guiding principle for theory and practice.
Though the party itself, MAKI, has always stressed stability and continuity and shunned change for the sake of change - even its most devoted admirers would be ready to admit that the crisis which has hit all the Communist parties, with the collapse of the Soviet union and related events, has posed many, severe, existential problems with which the party is grappling on a day to day basis.The 23rd Congress
Preparations for the party’s recent congress at the end of June were marked by a number of contradictory trends. Though the existence of serious political tensions in the party was no secret, the Central Committee worked out two unanimous reports (political and organizational) which were presented to the cadre in the spirit of unity and consensus. No member of the CC actually challenged the reports or any part thereof. On the other hand, there was no sign of a solution regarding the festering conflict that created a totally anomalous situation in the Tel Aviv district of the party.
For all practical purposes, two CP’s and two DFPE branches have existed in Tel Aviv for almost two years. It seemed inevitable that the political basis for the de facto split in Tel Aviv would find its expression at the coming congress. For those who know MAKI over the years, there is certainly interest in the identity of the leaders of the two, de facto factions. Former General Secretary, Meir Wilner, is the leader of one group which includes, among others, Attorney Avraham Melamed, Hans Lebrecht, Yoska Wallerstein.
The second group is led by MK Tamar Gozansky and Benyamin Gonen, MAKI Histadrut representative and includes Sasha Khinen, Uzi Burshtein, and Yaffa Gavish. Of course, almost any attempt to define the two groups reveals something about this author’s preferences for the Gozansky group, which should, for the sake of honesty, be revealed at this point. Wilner represents Communist orthodoxy which seems to stress, that the most important task, in the given difficult circumstances, is to counter revisionist conclusions stemming from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tamar Gozansky appears to emphasize that the survival of Communism depends on the success of a long process of renewal, based on an understanding that the collapse of the Soviet Union must have far reaching theoretical and practical implications.
In truth, careful reading of the party’s theoretical journal, Arikhim, edited by Wilner, on one hand, and the party weekly, Zu Haderech, edited by Gozansky, could have given a highly informed reader some inkling of the political tendencies involved. Wilner seems to be involved in promoting the Communist Party of the Russian Federation as the new model party for the entire movement; many a bow is directed in the direction of Gus Hall for his valiant struggle against revisionism. The Portugal CP is definitely “in”, while new elements in Communist strategy in France and Italy are still being “examined.” Zu Haderech has excellent coverage of labor struggles here in the country and can, for the first time in years, cite the participation of MAKI representatives in these struggles, in one form or another. Zu Haderch goes out of its way to publish contributions by non-party people, and is generally a much more open affair - though up till now, we have not had any open confrontation or violation of party protocol from either side. And party protocol is quite adept at keeping inner struggles away from the public eye.
The Arab Cadre
Arabs make up at least 80%, (if not more) of the party membership and cadres. Therefore, the question of the party’s direction, would, in many senses, be decided during and after the party congress by the position that the Arab cadres would adopt regarding the festering conflict in the “Jewish sector.” Naturally, the ideological conflict that developed in the Jewish sector of the party was meaningful for many of the Arab activists who were prone to sympathize with one of the two groups. However, for a number of reasons, the debate in the Arab sector took on different forms. It must be understood that the argument as articulated to this point had no practical bearing whatsoever on the current political line of the CP regarding the basic, day to day questions of policy regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict. Moreover, many party members, Jews and Arabs, feel that unity is more important than the debate - at least at this stage. In one discussion, party leader, M. Naffah, was quoted as saying that he agreed ideologically with the Wilner group, but he agreed organizationally with the Gozansky group. The sense of the statement was that Wilner’s firm adherence to classical principles expresses his own personal preference. However, he is not willing to accept the Wilner dictate to the effect the Gozansky group is a social-democratic deviation, pulling the party away from its spiritual anchor in Leninist principle.The Congress - First Results
It appears that the main thrust of Wilner’s demands, before and during the Congress was that the party leadership, and especially the Arab cadre, accept his analysis regarding the Gozansky group and adopt some sort of administrative sanctions, to put the party back on the true course. The Wilner faction approached the Congress as a fight over loyalty to party procedures and rules. Wilner initiated a fight in the mandate committee over alleged irregularities that allowed seating party leaders who did not have a chance to be elected as delegates from the Tel Aviv branch under his domination. Wilner threatened the Congress with the accusation that it was an illegal affair and in order to make this point he boycotted the whole affair personally, though his supporters were present and vociferous in presenting a catalog of “revisionist sins” against Gozansky and Gonen. It is hard to understand why the Wilner group failed so miserably. They never received more than 10% of the votes of the delegates on the procedural issues which they fought on the floor of the Congress. They decided to boycott the new bodies up for election. The overwhelming number of delegates, Arabs and Jews simply refused to relate seriously to a list of accusations that was based on catechism and cant. There were, of course, many Arab delegates who supported the Gozansky tendency. There were probably even more who rejected the Wilner demands for fear that steps against Gozansky meant remaining with Wilner and his faction and would lead to even greater isolation of the party in the Israeli Jewish public. At any rate, the results of the congress, the election of the new bodies (the Central Committee and the Political Bureau elected at its first session) all indicate that the party has clearly turned its back on the Wilner faction.
An Important Sub-Text: A New Political Culture
Two members of the CC represented the party at the recent congresses of the French and the Italian sister parties. CC members Issam Makhul and Dov Khinen, both returned with enthusiastic reports on the development of a entire new political culture.This new culture and style had managed to overcome, in the main, those external trappings of the old Communist movement which developed out of a disproportional and un-revolutionary tendency to copy the style and the culture of the Soviet Communist party. These trappings seemed to many the actual Leninist essence of the party, while in fact, they represented a rather servile mentality that admired Soviet style and practice, whether it had anything to do with revolutionary thought and practice.
Many Israeli Communists have yet to be convinced that Wilner’s approach leads the party into a cul de sac. They have a deep and strong sense of loyalty to the previous status and battle of the party, and may fear that change, may lead to a loss of principle and uniqueness that characterized the party over the years. However, the party leadership as a whole understands that deep and complex changes in the conditions of its existence and operation must, of necessity, mean transformation and modernization.

From the side, it appears that conservatism in the party is based on the party’s tendency to secrecy and opaqueness and the real move forward will involve major steps to enhance party democracy and transparency. After all is said and done, one of the major roles of the party is the development of an acute and developed political consciousness in the cadre and around the party. This would mean that the public airing of differences of opinion and approach, inevitable in any living political organism, would enhance the party’s prestige. The party must show its ability to debate and to decide. Debate without decision is indeed a dangerous habit, but decision must be based on the widest, open public debate. There is every reason for optimism, though, as we know, dogmatic and conservative instincts have a way of persisting.
Why It Happened
In the final analysis, the tensions in MAKI are linked to opposing conceptions as to the lessons to be learned from the demise of Soviet Communism. The sense one has in reading and hearing the message of Meir Wilner and his associates is that the collapse was more in the way of a conjectural mishap. Serious mistakes were left unrectified and opportunist elements in the leadership opened the gates of counter-revolution. Perestroika seems to have been a good idea, glasnost a catastrophe that jettisoned the leading rule of the party. Wilner and friends are great admirers of People’s China and totally convinced that China is building socialism - the firm domination of the Communist party over the processes being a guarantee of its success. The organizational difficulties in the Israeli party appear as a result of deviation from Leninist principles and from old-style democratic-centralism, whose absence in the Soviet Union seems to have been one of the chief reason for the retreat. International Communist support for the Soviet Union and the CPSU was justified in theory and practiced and the main source of the movement’s strength.
The Gozanksy group, admittedly by its nature a more heterogeneous affair, feels that there were substantial structural reasons for the collapse of the Soviet union and all it symbolized. At any rate, the presentation of one, given form of socialism, which developed in highly specific conditions as the model and the ideal of socialism was counter-productive. Abject worship of the Soviet model, certainly did incredible harm to the revolutionary movement and robbed it of its ability to orient itself in new and more complex conditions. The party must be sensitive to new currents of revolutionary theory and strategy as they develop. In any case, all international experience must be adapted to the unique conditions in which the party operates.
These contrasting summaries of the party’s historical experience are undoubtedly the deeper source of current tensions. The battle of ideas and over their meaning for revolutionary practice in this old-new debate is important for all who treasure the principles of socialism and internationalism.

Wednesday, April 30, 1997

The Dayan Memoirs

In 1976 Israel’s famous general and political figure, Moshe Dayan, was in the political wilderness. His status had been severely tarnished by the blunders in the preparation for the October, 1973 - Yom Kippur War. Dayan did hope for some sort of a political comeback and therefore expressly forbade the journalist and personal friend, Rami Tal from printing the results of a long series of interviews that Tal held with Dayan. Tal recently received permission from Dayan’s daughter, MK Yael Dayan to publish the material.
Fatal Mistakes The interviews cover many central events in Dayan’s career, all of which are of some interest to observers of the Israeli scene. However, Dayan’s confessions regarding two central cornerstones of Israeli policy, are utterly astounding. The information and the analysis contained therein are sufficient to completely demolish the foundations of declared Israeli policy regarding these vital current issues, i.e. the Golan Heights and the Jewish settlement in Hebron. We would certainly like to translate the entire document which was published in Yediot Ahronot on April 27, 1997, but are simply unable to do so. Here are the two most significant sections:
Greed, Simple Greed!
(The first interview took place on November 22, 1976.)
Dayan: “…But what I wanted to say was that in two cases I did not fulfill my duties as the Minister of Defence, in that I did not prevent things that I was certain had to be stopped. The first case was on the fourth day of the Six-Day War, when a delegation from the kibbutzim met with Eshkol in order to convince him to begin a war against Syria. Dado (General David Elazar) had sent them, he was the commander of the northern district and feared that he was going to be left out of the war, so he sent the kibbutzim members. The kibbutz members came and put on a big show for Eshkol: what is this, you are abandoningus, and how are the Syrians going to get away clean and all this kind of rubbish.” -2-Q: And you say this was superfluous?
Dayan: “It was more than superfluous. You see, you can talk in terms of ‘the Syrians are scoundrels, they should be screwed, and its the right time’ and other such talk, but this is not policy. You don’t screw the enemy because he’s a scoundrel, but because he threatens you. And the Syrians, on the fourth day of the war were not a threat to us.” Q: But they were sitting on the Golan Heights and…
Dayan: “Leave off. I know how at least 80% of the incidents began there. In my opinion, more than 80%, but lets talk about 80%. It would happen like this: We would send a tractor to plow someplace of no value, in the demilitarized zone, knowing ahead of time that the Syrians would begin to shoot. If they did not start shooting, we would tell the tractor to keep going forward, until the Syrians in the end would get nervous and start shooting. And then we would start firing artillery, and later also the airforce and this was the way it was. I did this and Laskov and Tzur (two previous commander-in-chiefs) did it, Yitzhak Rabin did it when he was there (as commander of the northern district at the beginning of the sixties), but it seems to me that it was Dado, more than anyone else, enjoyed these games.”Q: I’m pretty astounded at what you say. What was it all for?
Dayan prefaces his answer with an analysis of the armistice agreements and adds.“What do I want to say by this? We thought then, and this continued for quite a long time, that we could change the lines of the armistice agreements by military actions that were less than war. That is, to grab some territory and to hang on to it until the enemy despairs and gives it to us. It can be said absolutely that this was sort of naive on our part, but you should remember that we did not have the experience of a state…”Q: So all that the kibbutzim wanted was the land?
Dayan: “I am not saying this. Certainly they wanted the Syrians to disappear. They suffered a lot because of the Syrians. Look, as I said before, they lived in the kibbutzim, they farmed, raised children , lived and wanted to live there. The Syrians opposite them were soldiers who shot at them and they certainly did not like this. But I can tell you in absolute certainly: the delegation that came to convince Eshkol to attack the Heights did not think about these things. It thought about the land on the Heights. Listen, I am also a farmer, I’m from Nahalal, not from Tel-Aviv and I recognize this. I saw them and I talked to them. They did not even try to hide their greed for that soil. That’s what guided them.”
Dayan discontinues this part of the interview by pointing out to Tal that he doesn’t want to publish any of this since he may somehow return to the political arena. And indeed Dayan joined the newly formed Begin government in the summer of 1977.
The Beginning of the Hebron Disaster
In an interview that took place on January 1, 1977 -Q: Moshe the last time that we talked you said that there were two things regarding which you did not fulfill your duty as Defence Minister. The first was that you did not prevent the conquest of the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War. What was the second?
Dayan: “ The second and in my opinion even more severe, and with even more dangerous implications for the future, is the affair of the illegal settlement in Hebron. I am talking about Park Hotel, Levinger, Passover, do you remember? (Moshe Levinger and a group of cohorts came to Hebron ostensibly to celebrate the Passover holiday and then wheedled governmental approval to settle in the area. Levinger is, of course, the representative, par excellence of the drive for Jewish settlement in the Hebron region. RK. ) I think that I should have threatened resignation , and in my opinion if I would have done so the government would have approved my opinion. But I did not do this and for this I am really sorry.”
There ensues a discussion in which Dayan explains the problems involved in the resignation technique and explains the despicable role played in the affair by Yigal Alon.Dayan explains his reasons for his low regard for Alon.Q: Let’s go back to Yigal Alon and the Hebron affair.
Dayan: “Yes, what I started to say was that you have to see the whole affair in Yigal Alon’s perspective, because he is responsible that Levinger is still there, and this is very bad, this is really a catastrophe. In my opinion, Yigal knows this today and if he would have taken the trouble to think about it in the past he would have understood it back then, because it is not hard to understand that Levinger is a catastrophe, but Alon did not care about Levinger but about Moshe Dayan, and that I was against this wild settlement was enough for him to do everything so that his people would stay there.”
Dayan launches into an explanation of relations with the Arab countries as distinct from the Palestinians. -4-
“…But our problem with the Palestinians is totally different. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians cannot be solved by our dividing the country. That is, in the end we will have to somehow divide the country, but that is only part of the solution. Rabin once said , if I’m not mistaken, that he is willing to travel to Gush Etzion with a visa. But this is a very simplistic way to approach such a complex problem. Because the question is not the visa.” Q: Then what is the question?
Dayan: “The question is of living together with the Palestinians and this is very complicated. (Dayan goes on to talk about the size of the Palestinian population and Palestinian perceptions of Israel.)
“…Here I return to Levinger. Levinger understands this and his solution is very simple ‘to repeat what we did in the War of Independence, but on an even greater scale, according to plan…’. Dayan goes on to explain why Levinger disguises his real position, by claiming that he supports coexistence. “…But I tell you that the coexistence that he talks about in Hebron is impossible. Because it is like establishing an Arab neighborhood right here in the area around this house. Look, there are lots of empty lots all of which belonged at one time to Arabs. An Arab can come and show a deed for the area. In fact, he can buy the land and announce that he going to establish an Arab neighborhood. What’s wrong? Coexistence! Will they let him do this? Forget it! Look, in Upper Nazareth Arabs bought apartments and there is an awful lot of dissatisfaction and this causes trouble and I think its not healthy. And in Hebron?!”Q: But Levinger says that it is impossible that there be a place in Eretz Yisrael where Jews will not be able to live.
Dayan: “Yes, but that’s a slogan. In the legal sense it of course unacceptable to issue a law to prevent Jews from settling in any place, and this is true also regarding Arabs. But leave this to the lawyers. In practice it doesn’t work. Maybe after a hundred, a hundred and fifty of years of tense peace it will be possible, but not today. By the way, Levinger understands this perfectly. I repeat and stress that he did not want coexistence, he wanted expulsion. He wanted to make provocations that will bring the State of Israel with the force of the IDF to support him in his objectives…But I want to return to Levinger. What I began to say, at the very beginning of the interview, was that I did not fulfill my duty as Minister of Defence in that I did not prevent his pirate settlement in Hebron. I understood its significance, that it was a catastrophe and that I should have threatened resignation…”

Saturday, April 19, 1997

The Bar-on Affair

If you were a perfectly innocent observer, you might believe that the media and the law enforcement agencies (the police and the public prosecutor) are out to find and indict politicians whose lack of scruples allowed them to trespass beyond the limits of legitimate political bargaining and compromise. In short, by appointing the wrong person for the wrong reasons they had violated the law, mainly that prohibition which deals with the violation of public trust.
The strangest thing about the whole scandal is that even if you believe the worst allegations being thrown around, it is hard to discern any serious criminal action. After all is said and done, we are talking about a political appointment. If the maneuvering surrounding the Bar-on appointment can be defined as criminal, then much of the workings of Israeli government up till now can be faulted as such. The point is that though many of these actions are reprehensible or worthy of censure, there is something arbitrary in a mechanism that can decide to select any single set of actions in order to place them under the glare of a microscope and then proceed to reclassify them, thus transforming the usual disgusting and immoral coalition chicanery into criminal actions indictable in a court of law.
There is also something undemocratic and dangerously so, in allowing the investigative arms of the regime to become the sole arbiters of political propriety. In some senses, much of this is unavoidable. However, the common-knowledge, folk wisdom that all politicians are crooks and that bringing in the cops will help keep them in line, may end up alienating the public from democratic coalition government. It will create a tendency to introduce rules of the game that are appropriate for military -administrative bureaucracies or vaunted dictatorships where the police rule us directly, without benefit of any political mediation….
Deri, the Arch-Criminal
Aryeh Deri, as the officially recognized disciple of the Rav Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, has had a meteoric career in which he succeeded in maximizing the advantages for his party that could be realized by using its perennial swing vote status. Shas, under his leadership, became a new power center in Israeli politics which considers political power basically an instrument for building those institutions associated with its religious and educational mission. In this, they merely continue in the best tradition of Israeli politics. It may be that Deri was caught with his fingers in the cookie jar, but all the signs indicate that he merely exaggerated in using governmental clout to help his movement to repair past discrimination. Nothing to brag about, but certainly nothing to shame him or cause him discomfort in his own movement. If Deri is found guilty of graft at the end of his current (six-year long) court case it will be a result of somebody having moved the goal posts (a shift in the acceptability of certain norms) , and not because this is one of those classic cases of corruption for personal benefit.
The former Attorney-General, Michael Ben Yair who is supposed to act with restraint regarding still-active files previously under his direct responsibility insulted Deri personally a week or so after the Bar-On case hit the media. He complained bitterly that Deri had the nerve to harass the public and public opinion for years. This strange comment was totally unwarranted and smacked precisely of the kind of discrimination that Deri claims has motivated much of the legal action against him. Deri, the “clever Misrakhi upstart has annoyed many in the Israeli elite by putting up a strong legal battle and by leading his party to new electoral successes, while sitting there in the dock. Deri, moreover, is considered a legitimate butt of media humor and constantly portrayed as the prototype of the sleazy, corrupt politician who can get away with anything while we poor mortals have to obey all the laws. Indeed, if Israel had a jury system, one could argue with great justification that Aryeh Deri could not get a fair trial in this country. And if you believe that judges are human - you may be concerned that the incessant media portrayal of Deri as a wily, cocksure, crook may indeed harm his chances for a fair trial.
The media have to be defended because they are under attack by Bibi and Co. and they are indeed one of the main obstacles to dictatorial tendencies. But the media, as a whole, have a poor track record on the major stories of the era. They have led in the demonization of the Arab “enemy,” presented a totally one-sided analysis of the issues involved in the conflict and the peace process; they have been especially weak in matters connected to labor struggles and defense of social and welfare rights. These weaknesses contradict the right-wing hysteria to the effect that the media are in the hands of the “left-wing Mafia,” and the efforts by the media to live down these spurious charges simply confirm the value and the success of campaigns based on a “big-lie.”
There is every reason to believe in the sincerity of the journalists who broke the Bar-on story, but one cannot fail to be uncomfortable about the fact that it is commonly believed that neither of the two chief charges in the original report has been substantiated after weeks of intensive investigations. Moreover, it should be stated that the search for deadline sensations exposes journalists to all kinds of manipulation and weakens the prestige of the media - all in the name of commercial competition.
I admit to not being overly concerned about being fair to Bibi and his colleagues who are, at any rate, are all employing first-rate legal talent to protect their interests. I am concerned about diverting energy and public vigilance from the political realm - in this critical period - to the realm of juridical complexities. I am concerned over the possibilities of a reaction against the media and the legal system, when it becomes clear that the subject matter of the investigation is in the gray area between immorality and illegality - and the real dangers stemming from current government policies are ignored or underestimated. I simply do not believe that the media and or the legal system will do our work for us and replace this government with a better one simply because most of the people involved in the Bar-on appointment have never, in their political life, experienced anything like a moral impulse - of the weakest intensity.