The rule of law? Don’t make them laugh

Kids won’t respect law and democracy if elites abuse both with impunity.

vandalism at Jerusalem mosque_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
vandalism at Jerusalem mosque_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Last week’s upsurge of right-wing extremist violence – which included breaking into and vandalizing a West Bank army base, stoning Palestinian cars, torching two mosques and assaulting and injuring an Israel Defense Forces officer – sparked a wave of denunciations, and rightly so. Such violence can’t be tolerated, and more can and must be done on the law-enforcement front. That some 50 extremists could invade an IDF base without soldiers arresting a single one, for instance, is outrageous.

But solving the broader problem of the extremists’ utter contempt for democracy and the rule of law is much more difficult, because, contrary to popular wisdom, better education by rabbis and teachers won’t help. In fact, nothing will, as long as these youngsters continue to see democracy and the rule of law being flagrantly abused by the same elites who preach those virtues most loudly.

Most of the hooligans are old enough to remember how settlers helped former prime minister Ariel Sharon to a landslide victory in 2003, only to see him implement the very policy he campaigned against: unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. They also remember how settlers secured a sweeping 60 percent victory in the subsequent Likud Party referendum by going door-to-door, lobbying against the pullout, only to see Sharon and his fellow Likud MKs ignore the results and leave Gaza anyway.

They grew up hearing about how activists successfully lobbied against the 1995 Oslo II accord, only to see then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin reverse the 61-59 majority they secured by bribing two MKs to switch sides, then retroactively amending the law to legalize the previously-illegal benefits he promised them. And they saw and heard how all the journalists, academics, politicians and jurists who talk so grandiloquently about “democracy” applauded Sharon and Rabin for these anti-democratic maneuvers.

Yet, after all this, people expect rabbis and teachers to convince young people to put their faith in democratic methods of suasion? The youngsters would laugh in their faces.

Then throw in what these youngsters learned about the “rule of law” from former Shin Bet agent Avishai Raviv, a provocateur run by the security service in an effort to gather information on right-wing extremists. As Haaretz’s Hebrew edition noted in a damning retrospective last month, the Raviv trauma runs so deep that, 16 years later, the Shin Bet still finds it almost impossible to recruit informants from the settler community.

Raviv’s information produced neither high-profile indictments nor any warning of Rabin’s 1995 assassination, but he did stage several well-publicized provocations, like a swearing-in ceremony to Eyal, the fake terrorist organization he created; a staged “terrorist training camp” for teens and T-shirts with pictures of Rabin in an SS uniform that Eyal members sported at an anti-Oslo demonstration. All were broadcast on national television, shocked the country and served to smear the entire settler community.

The Shin Bet, along with the senior prosecutor who personally oversaw Raviv’s employment, periodically authorized him to break the law, and ensured that cases against him were closed even when his law-breaking was unauthorized. The prosecutor also concealed Raviv’s role from her bosses, two successive attorneys general.

But what befell those who authorized Raviv’s anti-settler smear campaign? Then-Shin Bet head Carmi Gillon was forced out for failing to prevent Rabin’s murder, but suffered no penalties for the Raviv affair. Indeed, far from being disgraced, he was showered with prestigious appointments, including ambassador to Denmark, CEO of the insurance conglomerate Avner, director of the Peres Center for Peace and seats on the boards of several leading companies; he was also elected mayor of Mevaseret Zion.

The prosecutor did even better: Today, Supreme Court judge Dorit Beinisch is president of the Supreme Court, the “rule of law” personified. And then people wonder why these youngsters despise it?

Nor is such impunity exceptional. Just last week, the state agreed to pay two million shekels to formerly-accused murderer Yosef Zohar, who spent five years being wrongly accused of murdering his father, Moshe. Though an ambulance crew said Moshe died of natural causes in 2002, his second wife persuaded police to investigate. Both Zohar and his father’s caregiver told police that Zohar left his father at 9 p.m., rushed back at midnight when the caregiver called and arrived to find his father dead. Since police initially neglected to check the house’s second phone line, proof that the phone call indeed occurred was discovered occurred only after Zohar’s arrest. But then, instead of releasing him, police browbeat the caregiver into concocting a new story, and prosecutors accepted it as grounds for an indictment.

In 2007, a court cleared Zohar, saying there was no evidence his father had been murdered, that there was strong evidence supporting Zohar’s story and that police had bullied the caregiver to lie.

But instead of being penalized for their conduct, the police officer who headed the investigation was promoted, another who worked on it was commended and the lead prosecutor was elevated to a position as a judge. In short, three law enforcement officials were rewarded for an unwarranted prosecution that put an innocent man through five years of hell.

Or consider former Shin Bet officer Yossi Ginosar, a senior Shin Bet official who was involved in killing two captured terrorists in 1984, extracting a false confession of espionage by illegal means from a Circassian IDF officer who spent seven years in jail before being cleared and lying to a state commission of inquiry and a court, respectively, about these incidents. Not only was he never penalized, but, in 1992, Yitzhak Rabin’s government even sought to reward him with a plum job: director-general of the Housing Ministry. (The High Court of Justice ultimately thwarted the appointment; that its intervention had no legal basis is a separate issue.)

Thus when these youngsters look at how the “rule of law” actually operates, they see a “rule” that only applies to ordinary Joes. Those who belong to the in-group of well-connected journalists, academics, jurists, security officials, businessmen and politicians can commit abuses with impunity – and, in some cases, be rewarded.

So how, given these realities, is any rabbi or teacher supposed to convince these youngsters to respect the rule of law? They would laugh at anyone who tried. And I couldn’t blame them.

The writer is a journalist and commentator. She is currently a JINSA Visiting Fellow.