In defending the integrity of the court system as the guardian of Israel's democratic values, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch lashed out on Monday against public-opinion makers who, she said, were zealously laboring to transform the legal discourse into an unprofessional public debate with the aim of influencing the judicial process. Journalists, public-relations people and lawyers for the involved parties choose to conduct their cases on the television screen, in the press and in public forums. This particular phenomenon, Beinisch asserted, was generated solely by the desire to whip up public opinion and thereby influence the courts and impinge on the legal process. Beinisch was responding to findings in a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute, which for the first time in years indicated that the public no longer regards the Supreme Court as the institution that best safeguards democracy. Known as the Democracy Index, the annual survey measures the attitudes of the Israeli public toward the nation's democratic institutions and values. The survey was conducted among 1201 adults, with a 2.8 percent error margin. Although the actual Democracy Index report was presented to President Shimon Peres several weeks ago, responses by Peres, Beinisch and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were delayed until this week and were delivered at Beit Hanassi. Beinisch said the preservation of democratic values in Israel was more difficult than in other countries, because such maintenance was conditioned by a war against terrorism that demanded measures that violated human rights. "We have to find an equitable balance between public interest and the protection of those rights," she said. The Democracy Index also referred to the public's disillusionment with both politics and politicians. Livni said she didn't need a survey to know the level of public confidence in the political echelon, "and I have no doubt that there is a process of erosion in public confidence in the courts." All sectors of the democratic system require introspection and repair, Livni asserted, cautioning that if this were not done, the public would distance itself from politics and politicians, as well as from exercising its most basic democratic right - the right to vote. A strong leadership, she declared, was one that could cope not only with the dramas that beset Israel, but also with the temptations that exist daily in political life. Peres, meanwhile, said democracy was not the nature of an administration, but something built on relationships. For instance, he said, while it was difficult to enforce traffic laws, accidents could be prevented by drivers' attitudes and behavior. Peres reiterated his frequent contention that Israel was not a corrupt country. If it were, he said, there wouldn't be a war against corruption. Peres blamed the election system for some of the existing corruption. It was not so bad when there were only two major political parties, he said, but with a lot of small parties it has become problematic, because they all need funding. He suggested tightening the threshold to make it more difficult for the smaller parties to win seats in the Knesset, and introducing regional elections.