Nissim Mishal: To what extent... did the police investigations, the fear of the
investigations, [state attorney] Edna Arbel in the background, and his [Ariel
Sharon’s] fear of being indicted, influence this historic decision regarding the
Resonating with readers
Ofer Shelah: Decisive influence! The people closest to Sharon
told us absolutely that if not for the police interrogations, the decision [to
quit Gaza] would not have been made.
– an exchange on a prime time TV talk-show,
Channel 2, June 15, 2005.
In my column last week, I suggested that in
deciphering the many seemingly inexplicable conundrums that abound in Israeli
politics, it might be helpful to conceive of the country’s political system as a
portrayal, in which the people ostensibly in charge (the elected politicians)
are likened to the driver, whose destination is in fact determined, not by
him/herself but by the occupants of the plush backseats, out of sight behind the
shaded panes (civil society elites), generated a deluge of responses.
spent much of my weekend coping with the traffic on my Facebook page and email;
and the almost 850 “likes” registered on The Jerusalem Post
seems to indicate that it resonated well with many readers.
positive overall reception the explanatory analogy was given, one particular
query recurred with some frequency.
While few contested the analogy’s
validity/ value as a conceptual postulate, many felt it needed greater empirical
corroboration and illustrative examples to back it up.
I confess that I
found this a little surprising, since corroborating evidence abounds everywhere:
In the bile of Haaretz
editorials, and even its news coverage; in the barbs that
pepper the commentaries on Friday night TV news programs; in the bias of
university syllabi, events and composition of conference line-ups; in the
documented and measurable jaundice of the judiciary.To recap briefly
Before I turn to providing substantiating illustrations of the theory, allow me
to recap briefly. Last week I demonstrated that no matter what the composition –
or the electoral platform – of the government of the day (the limousine
chauffeur), the “destination” is still the same: Adoption of a policy of
political appeasement and territorial retreat.
Changing governments seems
to have little effect on this – just as changing chauffeurs would have little
effect on the destination of the limousine. Of course, some governments might
embrace the policy with greater enthusiasm, others with greater reluctance, some
may counsel caution in dealing with negotiating partners, others, trust and
largesse, just as some drivers may have different styles of driving or prefer
slightly different routes.
But these disparities, once again, will have
little impact on the journey’s end-point.
This is determined by the
backseat occupants – a trinity of interacting civil society elites, comprising
groups and individuals who dominate the legal establishment, the mainstream
media and much of the nation’s academia – particularly, but not exclusively, in
the social sciences and humanities, including law.
These elites, through
their unelected positions of influence and authority that their professions
confer on them, can to a large measure shape the content and the conduct of the
political discourse in the country, and hence the constraints that
decision makers perceive themselves to be subject to.
provides them the capacity to have a dominant impact on the formulation of
national policy and to impose their overarching worldview on the elected
incumbents, no matter what the latter’s political manifesto or electoral pledges
to the voters may be.A culture, not a conspiracy
As mentioned last week,
I have been at pains to explain the motivation of these individuals
(Comprehending the incomprehensible – Parts I & II; June 13 and 19,
However, it is important to underscore that what is set out here
is not a theory of a conscious conspiracy, contrived by some malevolent elitist
cabal, purposely plotting the downfall of the Zionist enterprise, although in
certain cases, such sentiments might not be totally absent.
Rather, it is
a reflection of the socio-cultural milieu of these elites in which their
personal and professional interests are served far more effectively by endorsing
a PC (Palestinian compliant) policy of pliancy and concessions, rather than of
robust Israeli assertiveness. It is a consequence of the accumulated effects of
individual decisions and actions driven by the short-term pursuit of prestige
and profit of a group of empowered individuals, which trump the long-term
interest of the collective.
It is essential to understand this mechanism,
and the strict code of conformity by which it is driven. Otherwise, it will be
impossible to “comprehend the incomprehensible,” to understand why this
pernicious circumstance, which basically strips the democratic process of all
significance, and to devise methods to contend with it.
For with varying
degrees of intensity and coherence this was the mechanism that precipitated the
Oslo Accords, the ignoble flight from Lebanon, the unilateral evacuation of
Gaza, the Gilad Schalit exchange. It is behind the current campaigns for
unilateral withdrawal from Judea-Samaria and/or the acceptance of the patently
suicidal “Arab Peace Initiative.”Deeply disturbing discussion
One of the
most startling and disturbing testimonies to the massive influence of the perceived
power of these elites was aired on prime-time TV shortly before the
disengagement, on the popular talk show Mishal Ham
(“Hot Mishal” – phonetically
could also mean “Hot Survey”), hosted by the left-of center Nissim
In the program aired just prior to the 2005 disengagement from
Gaza, Mishal discussed a then-newly published book Boomerang with its authors,
two very prominent mainstream journalists, the left-leaning Raviv Drucker and
the decidedly left Ofer Shelah (now an MK in Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid
The TV discussion of the book, billed as being based on “hundreds
of interviews, secret documents and personal diaries,” focused on the
determinants of the process that led to Sharon’s decision to evacuate
The picture that emerges is chilling: Mishal introduces the program
with the following stunning declaration: “The evacuation plan was born because
Sharon was convinced that then-state attorney Edna Arbel would indict
The following are excerpts from the ensuing discussion (the full
version is available online), starkly highlighting how the specter of elite
power (in this case the legal elites) and their presumed political proclivities
dictate national policy – even when this entails total repudiation of electoral
pledges. Judge for yourselves.Egregious excerpts Mishal
: Was Sharon just
: Sharon wanted only to survive politically. And I’ll give you
a real-life example...
In October 2003, before the disengagement plan
started... Sharon was still opposed to it then – but he came around
: To what extent, Ofer, did the police investigations, the
fear of the investigations, [state attorney] Edna Arbel in the background, and
his fear of being indicted, influence this historic decision regarding the
: Decisive influence! The people closest to Sharon told us
absolutely that if not for the police interrogations, the decision [to quit
Gaza] would not have been made. Edna Arbel [was] still in the picture, and
Sharon [was] convinced that she won’t end her term before indicting him, and
then something very interesting happens...
Sharon receives a summons to
be interrogated, there are leaks from the prosecution that an indictment is on
: That Edna Arbel wants to indict Sharon? Drucker
is an atmosphere in the background that there has to be a dramatic diplomatic
move that will overshadow everything else, that will change the national agenda.
So they decide to come out with a major diplomatic step – and this is the major
Attempt to placate prosecutory zeal
There you have it.
Sharon’s fear of indictment had a “decisive influence” on the decision to
evacuate Gaza and raze all remnants of Jewish existence and endeavor there –
despite the fact that he had urged voters to reject precisely such a policy in
the election he had previously won.
This is a point that Drucker and
Shelah were at pains to defend.
When their colleague, journalist Ben
Caspit, attempted to dismiss it in an opinion piece in Ma’ariv
, as a “new urban
legend,” Drucker responded in a counter oped stating: “What we wrote, and
continue to claim, is that the legal threat that hovered over Sharon
significantly influenced the decision-making process that led to the
disengagement. Caspit knows this and we prove it in Boomerang.”
contention is eminently plausible.
Clearly the “major diplomatic step”
would not be taken in a direction considered likely to rile Sharon’s potential
indictors but rather to placate their prosecutory zeal, by offering a dramatic
policy change, concomitant with their political perspectives as a (political)
peace-offering, thereby forestalling any legal action against him.
was not hope without foundation, for corroborating sentiments were indeed
articulated in the socio-professional milieu of our “backseater”
elites."Equally egregious ‘etrogism’"
One of the most brazen of these was
given by unequivocally left-wing Amnon Abramovich, the Channel 2 Friday night
news analyst, a few months prior to the Mishal Ham program, at the Van Leer
Institute in Jerusalem. He declared: “We must preserve Sharon like an etrog
[ceremonial citron fruit], in a sealed can, padded with sponge, cotton wool and
cellophane paper. He is the only one who can pull this thing [the
Abramovich concluded: “We must protect him not only
against political [troubles] but legal ones as well. ‘Etrogism’
[i.e. protection] until September 2005 [the date for the completion of
the disengagement]. After that we will reconsider.”
not alone in holding such prejudicial positions.
David Landau, then
editor of Haaretz
, when challenged as to why his paper, purportedly “the bastion
of liberalism, the crusader against corruption in this country for decades” had
given Sharon “almost carte blanche” on his legal and ethical problems,
responded: “I consciously have subjugated those values to the overriding
advantage I see for Israel’s democracy.”
Clearly, then, according to
“Landauwian” logic, democracy is best advanced by keeping the demos in the
dark.Pervasive perversion in the press
While Abramovich and Landau might
have furnished the most blatant examples of abuse of journalistic privilege to
advance political agendas, contrary to those the electorate voted for, they were
by no means the only ones.
For example, Amnon Danker, the former editor
, admitted, “I wasn’t right in what I did by misleading the public on
the Oslo process.”
Yet, apparently unchastened, he confessed that his
paper’s coverage of the conflict helped pave the way for the unilateral
disengagement. “We were for it from day one. I think we helped in preparing the
public opinion for it.”
But the phenomenon was even broader in scope.
Thus in the Sept/Oct 2005 edition of Columbia Journalism Review
, Gal Beckerman,
opinion editor of the liberal Forward magazine, wrote: “Israel’s three major
[Hebrew] dailies, Haaretz
, Yediot Aharonot
unequivocal support for Sharon’s plan, both in their editorials and through
“They prepared the public for it and helped to insure the
steady 60 percent of support it garnered... Ultimately, the press made sure that
Sharon’s move could unfold in one way and one way only.”
See what I mean
by shaping the public discourse and policy formulation? Tip of the iceberg
examples cited are merely the tip of the iceberg. I could go on citing, ad
nauseam, additional ones, both pre- and post-disengagement.
would illustrate how the political process has been corrupted by the PC
(Palestinian-compliant) worldview of unelected civil society elites, with both
the ability and the motivation to compel – directly or indirectly – elected
incumbents to adopt policies consistent with their worldview and eschew those
that aren’t, irrespective of preferences expressed at the ballot box.
I am beginning to depress myself – and my deadline is approaching. I am
compelled, therefore, to leave further elaboration and elucidation to future
columns, with the assurance that I will return to this topic to address the many
questions still left unanswered.Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net)
is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic