After 2,000 years of bitter exile and persecution, after the devastation of the Holocaust and now facing the threat of weapons of mass destruction, many of us still delude ourselves that we can take our country’s survival for granted. How else can we explain why Israeli citizens stoically continue to stomach the self-promoting and corrupt behavior of their politicians which has polluted the entire political arena? Surely a nation feeling threatened from without would seek to throw out its rotten apples from within.
The rot originated with malpractice pertaining to political fund-raising both locally and internationally which involved all parties and became the norm. The obvious illegal practices of successive prime ministers and presidents were overlooked. Only in exceptional cases such as that of Aryeh Deri were politicians in breach of the law prosecuted. The so-called Sharon loan issue was transformed into a cause celebre despite the clear breaches engaged in by the Labor Party before Ehud Barak’s electoral victory.
Yet in contrast to Barak, Ariel Sharon arranged for the illegal funds to be repaid. His folly was neglecting to distance the deal from himself and his family as Barak had done. He should have realized that even a minor indiscretion on his part would be blown up by the hostile press, although frenzied and biased treatment of his case by Ha’aretz is unprecedented even by that newspaper’s standards. Until the loan issue, the media concentrated on the low-level corruption and sleaze exposed at the recent Likud primary elections, which were in a sense merely an extension of previous practices such as the 110 percent Druse turnout in favor of Avraham Burg during the Labor leadership contest with Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.
Without minimizing or trivializing the outrageous behavior and the desperate need for drastic action to eradicate such aberrations which corrupt the entire nation, one is obliged to maintain a sense of perspective. The intense concentration on these issues has diverted attention from infinitely more serious deviations of public responsibility and morality, many of which do not necessarily even involve explicit breaches in the law, yet pose far greater threats to our national interests.
When Yossi Ginossar, the man authorized to negotiate our future with Yasser Arafat on behalf of the government, is found to be simultaneously engaged in business dealings with Arafat himself dealings which allegedly led to payments amounting to $10 million it is obscene to say that he acted within the law and committed no offense. If failure to disclose such a massive conflict of interest is indeed permissible under the law as it now stands, the law must immediately be revised.
The implication of such a deviation from propriety is absolutely mind-boggling. Yet, shamefully, the issue seems to have been sidelined.
The fact that the former leader of the opposition accompanied by the former minister of justice again traveled to Egypt to meet with President Hosni Mubarak’s henchmen is equally shameful. That we are nominally at “peace” with Egypt and that no laws are being formally breached is not the point. What Yossi Sarid and Yossi Beilin have done is simply not done. They even had the effrontery to claim that they were acting in Israel’s interests especially when there is no Egyptian ambassador here.
WHILE IN Cairo, our two “representatives” may also have had the opportunity to meet with the Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups which were being hosted by the same people hosting them. With some luck Sarid, who recently described all settlers as a “cancer” who make him “ashamed of being an Israeli and a Jew,” might have assisted his Egyptian hosts in persuading Hamas to concentrate, for the time being, on killing Jews over the Green Line.
The Egyptians have already publicly called for such discrimination in the killing process in order to maximize votes for the “pro-peace” parties at our elections. Such behavior by Beilin and Sarid is reminiscent of that of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister preceding Winston Churchill, who epitomized the failed policy of appeasement of the Nazis.
But in contrast to Beilin, Amram Mitzna and other Israeli leftists, when Chamberlain finally realized that Hitler was a duplicitous gangster and that by appeasing him he was simply encouraging more demands, he had the decency to resign. He neither maintained independent channels of communications with the Nazis nor encouraged countries to reject British policy. He announced that he had been wrong and in a patriotic display of unity proclaimed full support for his successor, Winston Churchill.
What a contrast to the Israeli opposition. Here we are in a state of war, facing terror and being killed every day, yet in a demonstration of utter contempt for propriety, leading members of the opposition continue to agitate internationally, calling on the world to reject the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel.
What would happen in the United States or Britain, countries certainly no less democratic than Israel, if they faced a similar situation?
Imagine a leading member of the US Democratic Party visiting a country whose head of state takes public pride in the fact that he would never set foot on American soil; a country which had withdrawn its ambassador in protest at the policy of the American government; which at the highest political level made crude statements demonizing the American president; and whose state-controlled media both print and electronic promoted vile hatred against the American people and their culture.
In the US it would be inconceivable for opposition leaders like Beilin or Sarid to meet officially with leaders in countries such as Egypt without prior government approval. That Israeli opposition politicians still visit a country whose leaders are unashamedly inciting hatred of their own government and people is symptomatic of the degradation of our political system.
TODAY, WITHIN Israel proper, our greatest threat is still the enemy within. The combination of post-modernism, consumerism and the suggestion that there is no limit even in a country at war to seditious activities by malcontents, paves the way for a regime reminiscent of Weimar Germany.
Treason, a word which for understandable reasons was virtually erased from the Israeli political lexicon after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, should be revisited. Above all, this will effectively require a review of ambiguous legislation regarding incitement and the obligations of Israeli citizenship.
Otherwise, we will continue to be directed by judges who will determine whether Israel will be a Jewish state. They will also be the unaccountable individuals determining whether Arab Knesset members who identify with Hizbullah and call for the end of the Jewish state have the right to enter the Knesset despite the objections of its elected representatives.
This issues goes far beyond a question of freedom of expression. For a country at war, there is also the clear danger that enabling agitators such as Azmi Bishara to continue radicalizing Israeli Arabs at this time, could lead to intensified terrorism and ultimately to internal insurrection which would truly necessitate the suspension of democratic life. Such behavior is not democracy. It is indeed reminiscent of the anarchy that prevailed in Germany toward the end of the Weimar Republic when the Nazis and communists exploited the democratic system in order to bring about its destruction.
We desperately need our leaders to restore propriety in the political arena. This will require tough legislation to strengthen the existing laws against treason and all forms of corruption. It necessitates the introduction of penalties to act as a deterrence against even the most trivial breaches, especially in relation to political fundraising and corruption.
But it will also require leadership to impress upon the nation that aside from legal considerations, such behavior is also utterly unacceptable from the moral standpoint.
We should stop looking over our shoulders worrying about what the world will say. Churchill interned Oswald Mosley and his fascist fellow travelers because they posed a threat. In so doing, he had the overwhelming support of the British people and was not concerned whether the Americans would accuse him of restricting democratic rights.
The next prime minister will find that despite criticism from the local and international media and outcries from a small number of leftists and malcontents, he would enjoy broad support from the people of Israel if he introduced appropriate legislation. Such action could forestall the more draconian steps that would be required if the situation spun out of control.
He would also be acting in the national interest, strengthening rather than weakening democracy, and following in the footsteps of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and paradoxically a great Labor Zionist.