The cry of the dispossessed Cossack - Opinion

When the citizens demand their rights, the elites take to the streets  to demonstrate.

Dr. Esther Luzzatto (photo credit: Michal Luzzato )
Dr. Esther Luzzatto
(photo credit: Michal Luzzato )

In the last four decades, the face of democracy in Israel has changed beyond recognition, not to mention turned upside down. The result is that Israeli democracy is currently under attack by institutions and organizations that have gained extraordinary power and are working to undermine the natural rights of the citizens of the State of Israel. This is a political struggle between “elites,” who are a minority, and all citizens, who are the majority, and is intended to undermine their power and political rights by weakening the Knesset and the elected politicians who are the representatives of the public.

Anyone who hears our retired generals - Ehud Barak, Benny Gantz, Bogi Ya’alon, Gadi Eisenkot and Yair Golan (partial list) - lash out in blunt language against the legal reform cannot help but wonder about the real motives that guide them. It seems that the harsher the expressions are, the greater self-interested and distress they indicate,  and not necessarily an honest and genuine concern for the fate of Israeli democracy. The suspicion creeps into the heart that they may  be realizing that, for the first time, their privileged position and power are in danger and that the masses, whom they so despise, have done the unthinkable; they have decided to exercise their natural right to influence and govern.

Oh, what anxiety! Here the entire power structure - political, economic, social and cultural - in which the army is only one of the central pillars is about to collapse. The masses have occupied the Bastille and are determined to make a difference.

The proposed legal reform, which merely seeks to return the system to a fairer and healthier balance between the authorities, as existed until the early 1990s, scares them. The balance is tipping  to their detriment, and they understand it. After all, it took them over 40 years to establish the power structure that violated the holy balance between the authorities in Israel. The judiciary could not do this without supporting other anchors in Israeli society, such as the military elite, one of those unelected elites that have seized the actual positions of power in the country.

The army became the supreme ruler

This invites a poignant discussion on  the IDF’s extraordinary influence on the country’s leadership. Let’s recall that those generals mostly entered the political arena and failed. But the system  remains constant - the IDF generals found and find themselves automatically after retirement at the top of the decision-makers. Almost every chief of staff, with a few exceptions, became senior minister after their retirement; some became defense ministers and even prime ministers. Senior officers were immediately integrated into key positions in the business sector upon leaving the army while enjoying generous and double pensions. Meanwhile, they also took care of their friends, using the  “A friend brings a friend method,” and it is a fact that most of the senior positions in the defense industries were filled - and are still filled today - by former senior officers. Another testimony to the Israeli-style military-industrial complex.

The fact that the generals are a closed cult that only cares about itself  found  a strong expression in the recent pension scandal. In the Bennet-Lapid government, Defense Minister Gantz stood on his hind leg (“to shake the country”) and even threatened a crisis in order to formalize the “Chief of Staff increases,” which means increasing the pensions in the IDF by one and a half billion shekels per year, th  previous scope of which already provoked harsh criticism in the past.

Oligarchic power groups that control society and the economy

When you understand the extraordinary power of the military elite, you can understand why the retired generals clamored  to defend their positions of power. While  democracy and the rule of law are exalted in their mouths, they make sure to preserve their privileged power through a campaign of delegitimization and intimidation against necessary legal reforms.

But within the social structure in Israel, the army and the senior command staff are, as mentioned, only one power group. This power structure is based on a number of oligarchic power groups, which control society and the economy and exclude the people from the decision-making process. Alongside the army and parallel to it - and in close synergy between them - other power centers operate like octopus arms. All of them are unelected, all  are opposed to the masses of the people, and all are alienated from the principles of democracy: the most senior officials, the centers of power in the media and academia and leaders in the business sector. The fact that they are all on the same side of the political debate should be no surprise. They all follow a similar pattern: contempt for the masses of voters and stubborn clinging to the citadel of power. As they maintain close mutual ties and even marriage ties, this pyramid of power is currently struggling to keep its position and influence while the masses of voters are determined to regain control.

Above all the groups stands the legal oligarchy, where all the clique patterns are amplified: intellectual arrogance and disdain for the masses, nepotism, the “friend brings friend” method, insistence on avoiding any reform, opposition to a strong external body of criticism of the attorney’s office, and more.

Aharon Barak, whose intellectual abilities no one disputes, is the clear expression of this. The harsh and unique phrase he used against the legal reform (“poison beads”) is evidence of the mentality of those who feel that the government is  slipping away from under their hands. Like another Barak, Ehud Barak, another former general who was ejected in shame  from the political system but insists on influencing it behind the scenes with an obscene combination of money and power, research institutes and foreign funds. Barak & Barak Ltd.

“Everything is judicable”

It is worth dwelling on the judicial activism developed by Barak, under whose auspices the decision of the masses of voters, which is perceived as dangerous, is rejected and replaced by the control of the philosopher kings in the style of Plato. Barak is convinced that there is no action to which the law does not apply, and every action should be examined according to legal norms defined in the law or required by it. According to this concept, there is no legal vacuum, and the law has a position on every issue. Hence “everything is judicable,” including political issues and questions of religion and state. The legislation of the Knesset and how it is conducted are also subject to the High Court of Justice’s test. Judge Barak even believes that every action, even political action, can be tested according to legal standards. However, in reality, not everything is fair, and not everything should come to the court’s gates, just as not every social problem has a legal solution.

This approach led to the extension of the right to petition the High Court to petitioners who are defined as  “public petitioners.” Before the era of judicial activism, a person who petitioned the High Court was required to prove that he had a genuine and direct personal interest in the matter in question or that he was personally harmed. If he did not have these proofs, the court would reject his petition because of the lack of standing. This reasoning allowed the court to avoid discussing petitions that touched on conflicts of a group nature, like many of the disputes on religion and state issues. However, Barak was able to force his opinion even on moderate judges, and since then, the judicial system has changed - the right to stand has been  dramatically expanded, both in public political issues and in issues of religion and state.

The elites never accepted the decision of the voters

Barak was another sign of the blatant, sometimes racist, resistance of the old elites to the revolution of 1977. Although Yitzhak Ben-Aharon did not say that the people needed to be replaced, but “only” that he did not respect the people’s decision, later he stated that the Likud government expresses a majority, unfit to rule. “This majority is based on electoral power bases characterized by ignorance, backwardness and insane fanaticism” (“Zet Ha’aretz,” 23.6.1978 ).

By the way, it is interesting to see that the same expressions of intimidation  voiced today against the government are almost exactly the same as those expressed with Begin’s rise to power and today guide the left. I draw attention to the article by the brothers Herzl and Balfour Hakke, published in “Davar” in 1978, about a year after the Likud came to power, in which they identified the anti-democratic characteristics of the Israeli left. The article was published again on the “Mida” website a few years ago.

It seems that the centers of power have not changed since then in their perception of self-superiority,  the need to exercise exclusive rule,  and the desire to preserve their positions of influence. They remain forceful, venomous and blunt. But it is worth remembering that these are only a few thousand people. They feed each other and control the information pipelines, but their number is  tiny. In such a small country, the oligarchic corporation has a  more significant  impact, but in the end, you have to remember that they are few.

We should not despair and give up 

In the last four decades, the face of democracy in Israel has changed beyond recognition, not to mention turned upside down. The result is that Israeli democracy is currently under attack by institutions and organizations that have gained strength and have the power to undermine the natural rights of the citizens of the State of Israel. This is, in fact, a political struggle between “elites,” who are a minority, and all citizens, designed to undermine their power and political rights by weakening the Knesset and the elected politicians who are the representatives of the public.

The crippled, partial, and weakened  Israeli democracy must recover, and the masses must stand firm against the protests of the privileged ones, who only care about their status, seats and generous pensions. They must disabuse themselves of myths of military and legal power. This is a righteous struggle like no other for shaping the image and face of Israel, and we must not despair and give up. We are at a critical juncture. The public protest against the reform, fueled by the media, should be seen as maneuvers by the oligarchs behind the scenes. If we don’t know how to shape a stable civil society now, we will ensure the continued control of the oligarchy in our lives without power and balance.

Furthermore, it is the right and duty of the new government, which was elected by law, enjoys the confidence of the Knesset and a solid parliamentary majority, and whose leader enjoys the continued confidence of a growing electorate, to implement its political philosophy regarding the judiciary, a conservative-liberal philosophy, thereby balancing the progressive approach regarding  the place of law in our lives, as is currently represented by the legal elite. Furthermore, this balanced  reform was one of the main issues in the last election campaign, and the clear decision in favor of the current coalition was also the approval of the majority of voters to implement  it. However, I trust the judgment of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who will know with his experience and wisdom to steer the legal reform responsibly.

The honest citizen must admit that if the government’s policy on vital questions that affect the entire nation is determined irreversibly by decisions of the Supreme Court obtained within the framework of routine litigation between parties in personal lawsuits, the nation will cease to be a ruler over itself since it will actually give up power in favor of the judges, “The honorable ones.” These things, dear readers, said no less than the revered President of the USA, Abraham Lincoln. Israeli society should follow in his footsteps, grow up and free itself from the crippling feelings  of admiration for generals or judges, and stand on its own feet. Only in this way will it ensure its continued existence as a society, a real democracy, pluralistic, where the people’s decision is decisive.

The author is the chairman of the “Israel for the Negev” association and a social activist