Reality Check: Israeli democracy needs a checkup

A country that establishes political committees to investigate its ideological opponents can hardly be said to be in the best of health.

January 31, 2011 04:24
4 minute read.
Jeff Barak

Jeff Barak headshot 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

In a ghastly sense, it’s fitting that National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari has been tapped to join one of the two parliamentary committees due to be established on Tuesday by the Knesset House Committee to investigate the financial sources of human rights organizations, harm done to the IDF, and the purchase of state lands by foreign elements.

Not that Ben-Ari will need to waste much time investigating to make up his mind as to where the nongovernmental organizations’ money is coming from, or how these groups should be treated.

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Earlier this month he told a conference in Jerusalem: “I see the people from Peace Now; they each have a private car. Every clerk has the finest equipment. Who funds all this? The greatest Israel haters are funding this. If we have to enact a law in the Knesset to eradicate this dangerous enemy, that’s what we’ll do. Such a germ can destroy Israeli society.”

So there we have it: left-wing NGOs are “germs” and a “dangerous enemy” that needs to be eradicated.

Well, we all know where this kind of rhetoric can lead.

Indeed, the Kahanist MK is the perfect representative of the “ill wind sweeping the nation,” to quote opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who described the move to set up these investigatory committees as “a new low in the history of the Knesset.”

Livni, correctly, has decided that Kadima will boycott the committees, and that as well as voting against their establishment, Kadima MKs will not serve on them. She understands, unlike Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (whose Likud party is imposing party discipline in favor of the proposal), that in a democratic state, politicians must not investigate citizens solely on the basis of their political views.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Kadima shares Livni’s views. Three Kadima MKs: Otniel Schneller, Yulia Shamolov Berkovich and Robert Tibayev, originally backed the Israel Beiteinu-sponsored proposal and voted in favor of the investigations.

At the time, Shamolov Berkovich said: “When I see Israeli organizations harm the only consensus in Israel – the army – I want to know how this happens.”

One wonders, in fact, just what exactly a politician as illiberal as Shamolov Berkovich is doing in Kadima. Despite her winning a slot on Kadima’s slate reserved for women, Shamolov Berkovich recently launched a blistering attack on feminism, arguing “feminism hurts women. I don’t want a single feminist thinking for a second she brought me to my high position of an MK... without my husband, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.”

THE REASON for pointing out Shamolov Berkovich’s inanities is that they highlight the ideological emptiness that lies at the core of Kadima – a party that has no coherent ideology or vision for the future.

Half-a-decade after its founding, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion, much voiced at the time, that Kadima is nothing more than a home for political opportunists on the center-right and center-left, with nothing to unite them.

It is this ideological weakness that the Labor Party must exploit as it takes advantage of the opportunity that’s been created by Ehud Barak’s welcome departure. In the last elections, many traditional Labor voters cast their ballots for Kadima; these votes are now up for grabs again.

While the issue of peace and the territories is still central to the country’s future – for there simply can be no future for a Jewish and democratic state if it continues to occupy the West Bank – there are plenty of other societal issues that also need addressing.

As long as Labor sat in government alongside the xenophobic likes of Israel Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman and Shas’s Eli Yishai, its freedom to promote a social-democratic agenda for a more tolerant society was severely limited.

Now that these constraints no longer apply, it us up to the eight remaining Labor MKs to put aside their fratricidal instincts and seek to rescue the Zionist Left from the abyss into which it has fallen. As long as Labor was led by a person who flaunted his wealth and illegally employed a foreign worker as an occasional maid, the party was never going to be seen by the public as the natural champion of the squeezed middle class and the working poor.

A healthy and stable Labor Party which promotes a clear agenda for creating a more equal and just society, in which all sectors – secular and religious, Jew and Arab – are expected to share an equal burden in return for equal opportunities, is vital for the well-being of democracy.

A country that establishes political committees to investigate its ideological opponents can hardly be said to be in the best of health.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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