Getting out of the gutter

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In the wake of Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002, well-known left-wing activists sent letters to IDF commanders alleging that they were "war criminals" and threatening to report them to the International Criminal Court for carrying out their duties.



Other left-wing activists have produced pamphlets, which they have tried to force the Education Ministry to distribute in high schools, that encourage students to refuse to serve in the IDF. And, with the support of the media, the Left has made repeated attempts to transform a handful of radicals who refuse to serve in the territories into a national movement and a tool for libeling IDF counter-terror operations in the international press.


Left-wing politicians like Roman Bronfman from Yossi Beilin's Yahad Party have claimed that Israelis who live beyond the 1949 armistice lines are war criminals. Today we have a 28-year-old Israeli woman by the name of Tali Fahima in administrative detention. Her association with Fatah terrorist commander Zakariya Zubeidi, still at large in Jenin, led to her initial arrest on suspicion of involvement in terror attacks against Israel. Left-wing protesters calling for Fahima's release from jail hold signs which say "Sharon has murdered more than Zubeidi."


What we see in the left-wing radicalism is a definition of the rules of the political game in which no safeguard of Israeli security, democracy or social unity is sacred. Teenagers are urged to refuse to serve in the IDF. IDF officers come under personal threat for carrying out lawful operations aimed at protecting Israeli citizens from murder. Our leaders are demonized as murderers and Israelis on the other side of the political divide are criminalized rather than engaged in constructive debate. Israeli traitors are defended as "peace activists" and their terror minders are forgiven for killing the protesters' countrymen.


Disturbingly, today in the now fully engaged political battle surrounding Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to forcibly remove some 8,500 Israelis from their communities in Gaza and in Northern Samaria, we see images from the Right that bear a striking resemblance to their political and ideological adversaries on the Left.


Respected right-wing voices such as former Prime Minister's Office chiefs of staff Yossi Ben-Aharon and Uri Elitzur, as well as Prof. Benzion Netanyahu and Dr. Ido Netanyahu, have signed a petition urging IDF soldiers and policemen to refuse to participate in the expulsion of Israeli communities from Gaza and Northern Samaria. Right-wing activists are claiming that the expulsion of citizens of a country by their government is a war crime. Reports have abounded in the media of citizens harassing IDF commanders who live in the Israeli communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza warning them not to participate in any acts of forcible removal of Israelis from their communities.




And Yonatan Bassi, who was appointed to head the office in charge of resettlement of Israelis from their homes, has reportedly received death threats and calls have been made to refuse to pray with him in synagogue.


The gutter culture of Israeli politics that was instigated and nurtured by the Left has now spread to the Right. The misplacement of responsibility for acts by the government onto loyal officers, young soldiers and policemen, and the derogation of the authority of the state over its citizens and office holders, is troubling. One cannot place on the back of a soldier the responsibilities that are held by the prime minister and the defense minister and maintain that one is acting morally, for acting thus is an abdication of moral responsibility of citizens in a democracy to petition their government to change policies they oppose.


Eleven years ago this week, the Labor Party, under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, forced the reality of the Oslo Process on the Israeli electorate. In negotiating with the PLO, Rabin did more than simply break his explicit pledge to voters in the 1992 general election not to recognize the PLO. He broke with what had been the consensus of the Israeli body politic since the establishment of the PLO by Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1964, that the PLO is an implacable enemy and a terrorist organization that cannot be dealt with.


And Rabin broke with the consensus without any prior debate in the public and without any warning, achieving the agreement in secret with residents of Tunis at the same time that he had a delegation of negotiators sitting in Washington meeting with Palestinians who actually live in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.


Rabin refused to acknowledge that what he had done was somehow anti-democratic in spite of the fact that he didn't even have a majority of support for the plan in the Knesset. With the knee-jerk backing of the press, Rabin refused to engage in debate of the substance of his policies, preferring instead to castigate his political opponents as "enemies of peace." As terror attacks increased precipitously, Rabin and Peres ignored all calls from all quarters for a reassessment of the Oslo process, even those coming from then-president Ezer Weizman.


And then, when Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, the Left, again with the active support of the media, blamed the three million Israelis who opposed Oslo, and specifically the one million Israelis who participated in demonstrations against Oslo, of responsibility for the murder. Never mind that all the lawyers in the State Attorney's Office, with unlimited financial resources, were unable to indict even one leader of the right-wing opposition for incitement or anything that would link any of them in any way to Amir. "We won't forget and we won't forgive" was the leading slogan of the Left. The object of their hatred was not Amir, it was every Israeli who rejected Oslo.


Sharon's plan for Gaza and Northern Samaria follows in the footsteps of Oslo for three principal reasons. Like Rabin, Sharon was elected on a platform completely contrary to what he is now presenting as his policy. The national consensus, until he tore it to shreds last February with the retreat plan, as enunciated by Sharon himself as well as by the commanders of the army, the police and the intelligence services, was that Israel cannot retreat from any territory until after the war has been won. And with no prior warning, based on no tangible change in the status of the war, Sharon declared that we must do now what just before he had repeatedly stated we must never do.


Finally, Sharon, like Rabin, prefers to castigate his opponents, whether they are Likud members, Likud MKs or leaders of the Jewish communities in the territories, rather than engage in any substantive debate on his plan. Instead of discussing why we will be better off out of Gaza – even as Hizbullah takes hold of Gaza and Egypt does nothing to secure the border from weapons smugglers – Sharon announces artificial deadlines for evacuation which, like his plan, are not based on any perceivable strategic or diplomatic rationale.


Happily this week, two important political forces stepped into the public descent into irrationality and puerile gutter debate, and have asserted responsible leadership at a critical juncture. First on Sunday night, at the mass rally in Jerusalem's Zion Square, the heads of the Israeli communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza defined the course and direction of the struggle against Sharon's evacuation plans. Rather than smother the democratic process, they called for its reinvigoration through a general election or, alternatively, a national referendum.


Picking up on this call, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday embraced the idea of a referendum. His call was rapidly joined by Education Minister Limor Livnat and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.


A referendum has certain clear adv
antages over a general election. As opposed to a general election, which is not simply a vote on Sharon's plan, a referendum is solely about the plan itself. In Knesset deliberations regarding such a referendum, vital issues such as what type of majority is needed to pass the plan can finally and belatedly be engaged.


While Shimon Peres remorselessly claims that Oslo is not dead, the rest of us, including Prime Minister Sharon, must learn at least some of the lessons of Oslo. It is not reasonable – indeed it is destructive to a democratic society – for a leader to change courses as dramatically as Sharon has without receiving some mandate from voters. Sharon has tried to evade this by calling for votes in his party which he has lost overwhelmingly. He can no longer evade it.


Equally, it is time that the rest of us also learn some basic lessons. Demonization of political opponents in public discourse is both unconvincing and detrimental to society. Just because the Left does it doesn't mean the Right should. Our soldiers and officers in the IDF are the only guarantors of our survival and we must never view them as part of the political debate. This demands that they also remain outside of the political debate.


We have a democracy and we need to understand that the answer to our disputes should be dealt with by strengthening our democratic and representative institutions. Our politicians must prove through their actions that our institutions can serve us. Our internal political disputes are great and dire, but we must respect ourselves enough to understand that, in spite of what divides us, and like it or not, at the end of the day we are in this together.


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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