“Strong leadership for peace”

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This week, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu took a vital step towards reinvigorating Israel's democratic system. By forcing the Likud's Central Committee members to transfer their power to select the party's Knesset candidate slate to the rank and file membership of the party, Netanyahu brought about a change which optimally will make Likud Knesset members directly responsible to more than 100,000 voters rather than to 2,500 party officials.

 

It makes sense that a politician who bases his party's electoral campaign on the slogan "Tough on Hamas" believes that his chances of winning are increased by enhancing Israeli democracy. Yet empowering voters goes against the grain of the political trends of recent years. The direct link between the strength of a country's democracy and its ability to effectively wage war against its enemies has been swept under the rug.

 

From Israel to Europe to the US, one of the Left's central arguments against waging a war against jihadists has been that such a war requires enacting policies that undermine the foundations of the democratic order by impinging on citizens' and residents' civil rights and liberties. The American Left's protests against ethnic profiling and government wiretaps, the Israeli Left's protests against IDF roadblocks and the security fence, and the European Left's defense of radical Muslim minorities in the name of multiculturalism all are predicated on this contention.

 

There is an alluring logic to this position. Yet experience has proven that all governmental attempts to appease radical Islamists have not advanced the well-being and security of Western democracies. Rather, such appeasement policies have served to weaken Western, liberal values and threaten the viability of Western societies.

 

In Europe, the official reactions to the Muslim cartoon riots exposed this reality. Rather than telling the Muslims who took to the streets and called for the annihilation of Denmark and the waging of global jihad where they could shove it, Europe's leaders bowed before these violent, intolerant people while expressing contrition and sorrow over the Islamic sensitivities that had been offended.

 

In Britain the media refused to publish the pictures of Muhammad – out of sensitivity for Muslim feelings, of course. The newspaper editor who published the pictures in France was fired. In Norway, the editor who published the pictures was forced to publicly apologize to Norway's Muslim leaders in a humiliating public ceremony. Franco Frattini, the EU's Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security said it would be useful for the press to "self-regulate" in attempting to find answers to question of "How are we to reconcile freedom of expression and respect for each individual's deepest convictions?"

 

And so, the European reaction to the Muslim rampages has involved slouching towards the surrender of their freedom of speech. Not only has Europe's appeasement of radical Islam not protected its liberal values, it has undermined the democratic freedoms that form the foundations of European culture. From a security perspective, the consequence of the silencing of pubic debate on the challenge of radical Islam is that Europeans are now effectively barred from conducting a public discussion about the chief threat to their political traditions and physical survival.

 

In Israel, the situation is no better. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's abandonment of his policy of combating Palestinian terror in favor of his policy of appeasing it through land transfers to terrorists precipitated both the corruption of Israel's democratic institutions and the weakening of Israel's strategic and tactical positions.

 

Sharon's decision to uproot all Israeli communities in Gaza and northern Samaria and to withdraw Israeli forces from Gaza was made without any debate or discussion. Neither the government nor the military deliberated on the policy before it was adopted. Similarly, no public debate of the policy was conducted after Sharon publicly announced it.

 

Rather than convincing the public to support the expulsion and withdrawal plan by explaining its rationale and merits, Sharon and his political advisers set out to rally the public to their side by demonizing and dehumanizing the plan's most direct casualties – the Israeli residents of Gaza and northern Samaria specifically, and the religious Zionist public with which most of the residents are affiliated, generally. To maintain pubic support for the plan, the government, with the support of the state prosecution, the judiciary and the police, systematically undermined and trampled religious Israelis' civil rights through openly discriminatory law enforcement policies and judicial rulings.

 

It should be recalled that in the aftermath of the expulsion of all Israeli residents of Gaza and northern Samaria, the public defender's office issued a report which concluded that the government had prejudicially enforced laws against its political opponents. After being threatened by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the state prosecution and a senior judge, Chief Public Defender Inbal Rubinstein, distanced her office from the report's conclusions.

 

In 1998, university students in Israel staged a nationwide strike. Erez Eshel, who today directs the Israeli Academy for Social Leadership in Kfar Adumim, led the protest movement. Eshel describes the difference between the state authorities' treatment of the university students then to their treatment of the opponents of the withdrawal and expulsion policy as follows: "During the student rebellion, for 40 days in a row, students blocked traffic on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. During the 40 days of nationwide protests, 50 students were injured and 500 were arrested. No one remained in jail for more than 24 hours. No indictments were filed against anyone.

 

"Elyakim Rubinstein, who served at the time as attorney-general, decided that nonviolently blocking highway traffic is a legitimate form of protest in democratic societies and therefore is not a criminal offense."

 

Eshel adds, "The police were extremely careful with us. The only students who were injured were those who had to be dragged off the highways. Yet, in spite of their caution, the officer who commanded the operation was pilloried by the media for even the minimal violence his forces used. Because of the media's criticism, he was disciplined and barred from dealing with the students."

 

Three days after last month's protests at Amona, where nearly 300 predominantly teenage protesters were injured by riot police in the space of five hours, Eshel's students visited Amona. As it happened, I gave them a lecture immediately after they returned to Kfar Adumim. The students were extremely agitated by what they heard and saw at Amona.

 

They met with the IDF's regional commander responsible for the area. Discussing the police violence against the protesters, one of their instructors observed, "Either the policemen were ordered by their commanders to use billy-clubs and horses to injure the protesters, or their commanders have no control over them. Either way," he added, "it is an unacceptable situation."

 

The IDF commander agreed with his statement and said that in his opinion an official, public commission of inquiry, with judicial powers, must be formed to investigate the police violence at Amona.

 

But Kadima, Israel's unelected ruling party, adamantly deflected all such demands. Not only did Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's interim government block the establishment of an official commission, on Wednesday, its ministers fomented the worst constitutional crisis in recent years by seeking to undermine the proceedings of the Knesset's investigative committee into the events at Amona. Ignorin
g the constitutional foundations of Israel's parliamentary democracy, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz forbade police and army commanders from testifying before the committee.

 

According to Israel's constitutional law, the Knesset is the country's sovereign. In their oath of office, every government minister swears to carry out the Knesset's decisions. The Knesset voted to establish an investigative committee regarding the protests at Amona. The government is legally bound to facilitate its proceedings. Impeding the committee's work by preventing police and army commanders from appearing before it is an act of contempt of Knesset. That Kadima's leaders feel comfortable trampling Israel's democratic norms should worry every citizen who values his liberty.

Neither the government nor the judiciary would dare to trample Israel's constitutional regime or the civil rights of the state's citizens if they did not enjoy the overwhelming support of the Israeli media. Just as last year it blocked debate on the government's withdrawal policy, the media now blocks all discussion of the consequences of the withdrawals.

 

Two weeks ago, al-Qaida's newly seeded cell in Gaza published a leaflet demanding that all foreign legations and personnel leave Gaza within one month. The terrorists announced al-Qaida's goal of installing a Taliban-styled regime to Gaza. Women who appear in public without a burka, cigarette and alcohol salesmen as well as Internet cafes, nightclubs and coffee shops where men and women sit together were all singled out as targets. The Israeli media ignored the leaflet.

 

Last week, the government and the media unleashed their wrath against OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh. Naveh was condemned for noting, during a briefing of foreign correspondents, that the Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria constitutes a strategic threat to the Hashemite regime in Jordan – 80 percent of whose subjects are Palestinians. That is, the media and the government launched public and personal attacks against a senior IDF commander for pointing out reality.

 

Naveh was ordered to write letters of apology to his Jordanian military counterparts. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni publicly apologized to her Jordanian counterpart and to anyone else who would listen. In acting thus, the government remained consistent with its policies against opponents of its withdrawal and appeasement policy. Naveh, like the opponents of appeasement, was guilty of pointing out the truth at a time when the government's official policy is to deny the truth in order to continue its appeasement policy. And so, like the opponents of appeasement, he was immediately castigated and humiliated for his deviant behavior.

 

Naveh so far has gotten off easy for his gaffe. Former IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon was fired for voicing his concerns about the dire security implications of Sharon's decision to withdraw Israeli forces and civilians from Gaza. Ya'alon's recent public explanations of the security costs of Israel's withdrawal have been largely ignored by the media.

 

So what we see with the erosion of democratic governments in Europe and Israel, and the decay of liberal values that form the basis of those governments, is that it is not the in the waging of war against one's enemies, but in their appeasement that the roots of political tyranny and intellectual serfdom are found.

 

And so it is that the Likud champions the public's political empowerment through the enhancement of Israeli democracy as it attempts to rally the people to its side by promising to be "Tough on Hamas." Likud understands that the increased involvement of the nation in politics through the strengthening of Israel's representative institutions is the key to both their electoral victory and Israel's victory in war.

 

In contrast, how does a party that has adopted a policy of surrendering to the country's enemies show its strength? By emphasizing its track record of persecuting its domestic political foes as a means of advancing its plan of appeasing Israel's enemies. And so it is that Kadima has chosen the Orwellian election slogan, "Strong leadership for peace."

 

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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