Message to Amnon Rubinstein

The domination of the economy by government corrupts both politics and the economy.

amnon rubinstein 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
amnon rubinstein 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Amnon Rubinstein - constitutional scholar, media celebrity, former government minister, novelist, not to mention Jerusalem Post columnist - was the subject of Ari Shavit's latest, engrossing, magazine feature in last week's Haaretz. Shavit lauds Rubinstein as "secular, open, energetic, multidisciplinary" - the salt of the earth. So when the affable Rubinstein confesses that he spends sleepless nights worrying that Israel may be destroyed by external enemies, or made to disintegrate by internal foes, Shavit says, and I agree, we had better pay heed. Unlike his former comrades in Meretz, and certainly in contradistinction to the radical Left, Rubinstein does not underrate the existential threat posed by a nuclear Iran. To their horror, he has abandoned his pro-Oslo delusions, realizing that Oslo exacerbated the conflict, and that the majority of the Palestinians are now determined to eliminate Israel rather than fight "occupation." Rubinstein - who remains a genuine liberal - realizes that something went terribly awry in his left-liberal camp, bringing about "a dictatorship in the judiciary [and] a left-wing takeover of academia," that demoralizes Israeli society. You would expect a prominent jurist who "for many years was identified with the Supreme Court and with its conceptual approach" to analyze this malady deeply. But, in the Shavit interview, Rubinstein offers only partial, mostly technical remedies: Get a better balanced, more pluralistic Supreme Court, improve the method of choosing justices so that it does not look like "an old boys' network"; lessen confrontations with the legislature, make the system "more efficient." He doesn't actually say how. Not a word from Rubinstein about the problematic nature of basic laws framed in vague, abstract formulations which demand perpetual (and necessarily arbitrary) interpretation; no word about the short shrift given to concrete, liberty-protecting property rights, nor about the excess of legislation and regulation that greatly expand government and its corrupt and corrupting bureaucracies. What of the excess legislation that floods the courts, making them unable to resolve civil disputes in reasonable time or cost, thus contributing to the misrule of law and to the loss of hundreds of millions shekels in thwarted economic activity? RUBINSTEIN rightly asserts that "there was a process here of the demeaning of politics and a dictatorship of the judicial system emerged." But was there not a cause for this "demeaning" and did the dictatorship just "emerge"? Was it not the domination of the economy by politics that corrupted both politics and the economy? Rubinstein further states that "the court, officialdom and the media created an exaggerated judicial bureaucracy… which consists only of checks" paralyzing government. But he fails to explain that this could only have happened because government usurped too much power, getting involved in so many conflicting tasks that governance became a mission impossible. Bedeviled by so many conflicting interests, government is at the mercy of lawyers, exploiting this confusion to paralyze activities their clients want stopped. It has become fashionable to bemoan the inability to rule. But Israeli governments still waste over half of our GNP and do much as they please with our lives. Rubinstein and his influential colleagues have been doing little to alleviate this bondage of excessive government because their privileged position protects them from its worse excesses. This may be why the liberal Rubinstein and his well-heeled cohorts seem uninterested in reforming our perverse government-dominated economic system. They do not feel the economic pinch that causes so much unnecessary suffering to most Israelis who have to make ends meet on a salary of about NIS 7,000 a month. They profess to care for the weak, but they never fought our rapacious monopolies, especially the banks which impoverish us by not paying market rates on savings, and by overcharging on most consumer services. These same rapacious monopolies rob on in such areas as housing, education and health services. Rubinstein's original Shinui (later Dash) Party had elements which supported free markets. Yet Rubinstein and most of his Knesset colleagues never really labored to free the Israeli economy from the dead hand of socialism. Economic concerns were apparently so marginal that Rubinstein did not hesitate to merge Shinui with the socialist Citizen's Rights Party and even with the pro-communist Mapam. Like the rest of our ruling elites, Rubinstein and his colleagues are so obsessed with defending the "peace process" that even when its dangers became obvious they had no energy left to fight economic misery. It took great courage for Rubinstein to state that our elites have been ideologically corrupted by our universities where "a small minority seized control of some of the humanities and social sciences departments, and of public discourse" inculcating their students with a neo-Marxist, anti-Zionist and anti-market dogmas. But when "the president of a very important university" confided in him that there are departments "in which people who espouse a Zionist worldview will not be accepted," neither Rubinstein nor his president friend took any real action. Rubinstein is brave, but he does not seem to realize that he and his influential friends must share responsibility for the radical Left's takeover by not fighting it with determination. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil," goes the saying attributed to Edmund Burke, "is that good men do nothing." The writer is director of The Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress.