Israel’s democracy is near-miraculous. Surrounded by vicious enemies, situated
in a region inhospitable to democracy, founded by Russians and Poles ruled by
Czarist whims not civil rights, populated by millions raised in autocracies, and
underwriting the Arab and ultra-Orthodox educational systems hostile to the
majority’s understanding of civics, Israel should relish its ongoing democratic
But democracies are delicate systems requiring vigilance
against internal rot and procedural perversions.
Witnessing the warm
welcome the government gave Avigdor Liberman, along with the Labor party polling
shenanigans boosting opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich, Israelis from Left to
Right must unite to defend our democracy. Especially as an oleh chadash, a new
immigrant, I insist: Israel must not become Corruptistan! The Liberman mess is
shameful from start to finish.
Authorities should never pursue a criminal
case for 17 years; Liberman justifiably feels abused. Just as statutes of
limitations block civilized governments from investigating most crimes after
certain periods, their investigations need time limits too. And the police
calendar must transcend the political calendar.
The appalling police
interrogation in 2009 just as Liberman was becoming foreign minister violated
the political neutrality justice requires.
Nevertheless, today’s Liberman
lovefest in the government is sickening. The court just declared that Liberman’s
“actions were inappropriate, immoral, and fall below the expected standard of a
public representative, especially that of a minister in the government of
Not being convicted “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and being found
morally unworthy of serving, are not vindication, and do not merit being hugged,
backslapped or lovingly cheek-pinched.
Watching Yair Lapid pinch
Liberman’s cheek, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu beamed, mocked Yesh
Atid’s founding vision, seeking “an effective government... which does all in
its power to combat corruption.”
This display of public affection also
betrayed the Likud’s founder Menachem Begin, who embodied Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s
teaching of “hadar,” meaning bringing honor and glory to all you do.
cue, Yacimovich lectured: “Public corruption is no less severe than criminal
corruption” and demanded an appeal. Unfortunately, Yacimovich’s race for Labor
party chair is emitting its own stench.
Despite launching her re-election
bid declaring, “A party that believes in democracy must be democratic in its own
right,” undemocratic procedural abuses threaten the legitimacy of her Labor
party primaries this Thursday, November 21.
The 2011 elections for party
chair had 140 polling places nationwide, reflecting a fair, democratic, grass
roots-sensitive rationale establishing voting stations in locations with 100 or
more party members. This year, Labor’s Elections Committee – dominated by
Yacimovichites – cut the number of polling places, especially where her rival
Isaac Herzog appears stronger.
Alas, the cuts are precisely where
democratic accessibility, maximum participation, and transparency are
particularly important, such as the periphery, the Arab sector, key development
towns, kibbutzim and moshavim.
What kind of political party with national
aspirations would eliminate voting stations in Mitzpeh Ramon, Netivot, Ofakim
and Kiryat Malachi, forcing many poor, burdened voters to travel anywhere from
15 to 58.4 kilometers to exercise their rights as party members? What kind of
party, while supposedly demanding equality, would close the five Beduin voting
stations it had in 2011, and reduce stations in Arab communities from 40 to
nine, and in Druse communities from 10 to three? What kind of champion can
Yacimovich be for social democracy, when her party apparatchiks disrespect
democracy itself? Equally disturbing is the proposal to centralize the vote
counting, rather than having the votes counted on the spot, with totals
certified immediately, so as to minimize opportunities for fraud. Predictably,
the internal Labor party court supported Yacimovich, using the even-less
accessible system deployed in 2012’s Knesset candidate primaries as its
But hailing from New York City, with its crony-filled Board of
Elections, I know how partisans masquerading as umpires pervert politics. All
these pro-Yacimovich power plays against Isaac Herzog – and against proper
procedure – shame the Labor party.
Labor’s current leadership is reducing
the once-proud ruling party of the State of Israel to the party of the elitist,
out-of-touch People’s Republic of Northern Tel Aviv.
Corruption in a
democracy – be it for money or votes – is like cancer in the bloodstream. It
infects everything, escalating from a moral anemia to a cynical fever,
ultimately threatening the body politic’s very existence, if untreated. Which of
our political leaders will risk their careers to defend our democracy? Where is
the public outcry propelling them? All this cheating reflects broader cultural
Increasingly, Israelis feel “magiya li,” I deserve this,
while fearing that only “friers,” suckers, follow rules. This toxic recipe for
irresponsibility and criminality, mixing arrogance with victimhood, must be
confronted by brave leadership, challenging education, and upstanding moral
Netanyahu, raised on Begin-Jabotinsky values linking individual
and national virtue, must show leadership. He should support the efforts to
define the crimes of fraud and breach of trust more clearly – then “reset” the
system, declaring a policy of zero tolerance from now on, with a muscular Ethics
Commission established in each party and in the government.
compel police officers, prosecutors and judges to treat all defendants fairly –
no matter their status – to avoid either witch hunts or free passes for
politicians. He should shun politicians who fail to measure up ethically, even
if they are key allies. He should encourage all parties to have consistent,
transparent, accessible voting procedures to avoid this year’s Labor party
Most important, Netanyahu should speak frankly to his political
colleagues and the Israeli public, using the prime ministerial bully pulpit to
push Israel beyond the small minded-culture of “I deserve this because I’m no
frier,” to the expansive, noble, self-sacrificing and just Zionist culture
Israel’s founders envisioned, befitting the high ideals of Judaism and
democracy, two of civilization’s greatest products.The author is
professor of history at McGill University and the author of
Why I Am a Zionist:
Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and
America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, just published by Oxford University
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