The limousine theory (cont): Irrefutable illustrations; egregious examples

Into the fray: Through their unelected positions of influence and authority, civil society elites shape the political discourse and hence the perceived constraints on decision-makers.

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June 21, 2013 00:14
Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif

Gusk Katif -Neve Dekalim 311. (photo credit: Yakov Ben-Avraham)

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 disengagement?

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 chauffeured limousine.

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Resonating with readers

This allegorical 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.

I 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 website, JPost.com, seems to indicate that it resonated well with many readers.

Despite the 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.

This clearly 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, 2012).

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 Mishal.

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 party).

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 Gaza.

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 him.”

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 a puppet?

Drucker
: 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 later.

Mishal: 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 disengagement?

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. 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 the way.

Mishal: That Edna Arbel wants to indict Sharon?

Drucker: There 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 diplomatic step.

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.”

Drucker’s 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.

This 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 disengagement] off.”

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.”

Abramovich was 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 of Ma’ariv, 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 and Ma’ariv provided almost unequivocal support for Sharon’s plan, both in their editorials and through their coverage.

“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

The examples cited are merely the tip of the iceberg. I could go on citing, ad nauseam, additional ones, both pre- and post-disengagement.

They too 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.

But 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 Studies.(www.strategicisrael.org)


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