Savir's Corner: Emergency!

crisis is evident in Israel, where our political leadership has practically ceased ruling, instead clinging to power, curtailing democracy and human rights.

Social protest rally in Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Social protest rally in Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
It seems as though the world is going through a leadership crisis, possibly stemming from a fundamental change in the whole notion of governance.
The United States, the European Union and Japan are barely able to control their own economies at a time of crises and recession.
We are witnessing social-political unrest in various parts of the world, not least of all the Middle East. There are underlying factors contributing to the weakness of modern day government and governance:
• The growing power of the international private sector that to a large degree dominates economic processes.
• A growing sense of empowerment of societies, which on a worldwide scale have taken their protest to the streets and squares of their cities, from Wall Street to Tahrir. No wonder Time magazine chose “The Protester” as its Person of the Year 2011.
• The growing influence of civil society on social-political processes; NGOs are today in many ways no less influential than governments.
• The profound influence of modern media on the public agenda, previously dominated by government.
• The bureaucratic nature of today’s politicians – “grand leadership” of historical proportions is hard to come by in an era shaped by politicians constantly hypnotized by public opinion polls.
Globally, these elements result in the inability of leaders to collaborate and affect change. The endless summits in Europe over the Greek economic crisis are proof of that. In the Middle East, the crisis is even more severe and has resulted so far in the toppling of four dictatorships – in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, with Syria being the next in line. Young rebels protesting en masse have become more powerful than some of the largest armies in the world.
And yet, even after these revolutions, we are witnessing a kind of people-cracy more than democracy, with religious currents for the time being rendering effective rule almost impossible.
This crisis is very evident in Israel, where our political leadership has practically ceased ruling and instead is clinging to power and curtailing democracy and human rights. There are an abundance of examples of this: • Last summer the young middle class took to the streets in the hundreds of thousands, demanding affordable living, social justice and a change in the excessively capitalistic system. The government’s response was weak and insufficient. A panel (the Trajtenberg Committee) was created, whose already insufficient recommendations were then barely implemented.
• A deep crisis in our public health system, despite the recent accord between the young doctors and the Finance Ministry; Israel cannot pride itself anymore on an effective, egalitarian healthcare system.
• The dangerous legislation aimed at politicizing and weakening the High Court of Justice, with the support of the prime minister, is disrupting the balance between the executive and judicial branches, thus undermining the democratic system.
• The populist, racist legislation of Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman’s special troops in the Knesset, targeting the equal rights of the Arab minority, freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
• The dangerous lack of respect toward equal gender rights, as exemplified by forbidding women to sing in public performances, including in the army, or even to sit at the front of the bus where men are seated. This is not Tehran, but Jerusalem.
It is therefore no wonder that Britain’s prestigious Economist Intelligence Unit, in its 2011 Democracy Index, defined Israel as a “flawed democracy,” with a rating of our degree of civil liberties on par with that of Uganda, Libya and Lebanon.
Most dangerous is the latest strengthening of the extreme right’s settlers, backed tacitly by the settler movement as a whole, and with a wink by many elements in Netanyahu’s coalition. These fanatic zealots, by setting fire to Palestinian property and Muslim religious structures, risk setting fire to the whole region. They are a dangerous form of Jewish terror and racism. Their main aim is to sabotage any slight chance of a peace process that would “endanger” the presence of illegal outposts, not to speak of settlements.
Incredibly, only last week scores of them attacked the IDF, infiltrating an army base and wounding a senior officer. The head of the Central Command, Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi, said that never in all his years of services has he seen such Jewish hatred toward our soldiers.
Hating IDF soldiers is in effect hating Israel. Attacking them is an attack against the state.
This tragic process, quite probably only at its beginning, highlights the lack of governance by our prime minister in a dramatic manner. He refuses to name the Jewish terrorists for what they are, and has chosen to apply measures that are mostly more of the same. Too little, too late.
And too late it very well may be. If we continue to slide into the abyss of undemocratic legislation and attack on our democratic institutions, violent anarchy threatens.
Next time the High Court of Justice orders the government to evacuate an illegal outpost, live ammunition may be used by the zealot settlers.
This is the most severe crisis of governance and democracy since the state became independent in 1948. The remedies the government is suggesting are the equivalent of aspirin for a cancer patient.
If Netanyahu is anything of a leader he should form an emergency unity government with Kadima and Labor, divorce the extreme right of Lieberman and company and the haredim, and then proceed forcefully to arrest and disarm the extreme zealot settlers, evacuate all illegal outposts, cancel the undemocratic legislative efforts against the High Court, freedom of speech and the rights of the Arab minority, and enforce the law with conviction against those who threaten gender equality.
The final outcome of such a move should be the announcement of a settlement freeze, enabling a viable peace process with the Palestinians, based on a two-state solution. In this manner he can ensure that one of these states is Jewish and democratic.
In Israel there has always been a sense of “anything you (the world) can do, we can do better.” This is definitely true for the governance and leadership crises in the world, and it may not yet be too late.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.