On Sunday Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz drove yet another stake into the country's political discourse. Last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that despite his resignation and the fact that elections have been called for February 10, he intends to renew negotiations with Syria. He hopes to commit Israel to surrendering the Golan Heights to Bashar Assad, Iran's Arab proxy, before he is replaced by a new prime minister.
Olmert's plan to compel a future government to accept such a commitment – which is opposed by a large majority of Israelis – caused an uproar. Opposition leaders and even members of Olmert's own Kadima party claimed that as the head of a transition government, Olmert has no legal right to make such a commitment.
After all they noted, just a few weeks ago Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch announced that the transition government has no legal right to appoint new judges. Beinisch claimed that as a transition government, Olmert and his colleagues had no legal right to make decisions that will have a long-term impact on Israeli democracy and since appointing judges would have such a long term impact, they are legally barred from appointing them. If the government is barred from appointing judges, certainly it must be barred from surrendering the strategically vital Golan Heights.
But Mazuz thinks differently. Appointing judges, he asserted, is a legal action. Surrendering the Golan Heights, in contrast, is a political action, he claimed. So while the transition government may not be allowed to appoint judges, it is allowed to give Syria control over the country's water supply.
By claiming that appointing judges is a legal act and surrendering vital lands is a political act, Mazuz made a mockery of both the law and of politics. And he did so without blushing because from his perspective, both the rule of law and the powers of politicians can only be determined in light of their impact on the rule of the Left. Actions are permissible, democratic and legal when they advance the rule of the Left. They are impermissible, anti-democratic and illegal when they detract from the rule of the Left.
MAZUZ OF course is far from alone in his assault democratic norms in the service of leftist ideology and power. Beinisch herself has never shied away from hypocrisy when it serves the interest of her ideological camp of radical leftists. As Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann noted wryly, given that Beinisch herself was appointed to the Supreme Court by a transition government, her concern about enforcing the limited powers of a transition government is remarkable.
Mazuz's decision to permit Olmert to cede the Golan Heights to Syria is also extraordinary when viewed in the context of recent history. In 1999, the Supreme Court placed a temporary injunction against then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's order to close the PLO's diplomatic mission in Jerusalem at the Orient House. The court's move was a legal scandal since Netanyahu's decision was clearly legal. Israeli law bars the PLO from conducting official business of any sort in Jerusalem. The PLO carried out official diplomacy at the Orient House. The law required the government to close the Orient House.
The Supreme Court's decision on the Orient House was revealing. It showed that the court was more interested in advancing the political interests of the Left than in upholding the rule of law.Indeed, it showed that the court had willfully co-opted the language of law and democratic norms to advance its ideological interests.
When a transition government advances the Left's political interests by offering the Golan Heights to Syria, its actions are legal and democratic. When a transition government advances the Right's political interests by curtailing PLO activities in Jerusalem, its actions are illegal and anti-democratic. When a transition government advances the Left's interests by appointing radical justices to the courts before elections, its actions are legal and democratic. When a transition government harms the Left's interest by appointing leftists who aren't radical to the courts, its actions are illegal and anti-democratic.
All of this demonstrates a disturbing state of affairs. Whether they are politicians like Olmert or jurists like Mazuz and Beinisch, the Left uses the rhetoric of democracy not to advance liberal norms and the rule of law in society but to destroy them both in the interest of advancing the Left's political interests.
THE LEFT's co-optation of the language of law and democracy is not limited to geopolitics. It extends to issues of cultural politics as well. Take feminism for example. Education Minister Yuli Tamir fancies herself a great champion of women's rights. She has written about feminism and the need for women to have mandated equal representation in both public and private forums. In all of her work on behalf of women's issues, Tamir has been clear that a society's refusal to mandate full equality for women goes hand in hand with militarism and other violent and anti-liberal tendencies.
And yet, in 1996, while a visiting professor at Harvard, Tamir authored an article defending female genital mutilation in the Arab world. In the Islamic world, girls are forced to undergo clitoridectomies to deprive them of sexual pleasure and so "preserve" their "modesty." Yet Tamir argued in her article, "Hands off Clitoridectomy," published in The Boston Review, it is wrong to oppose the practice because doing so requires a rejection of multiculturalism. As she put it, opponents of the barbaric practice, "intentionally widen the gap between our culture and those in which clitoridectomy is practiced, thus presenting those other cultures as incommensurable with ours. The effect of this distancing is to disconnect criticism of their practices from criticism of our own, and turn reflection on other cultures into yet another occasion for celebrating our special virtues."
Celebrating Western virtues is a no-no for Tamir, because doing so makes us likely to defend those values at the expense of her leftist appeasement agenda. If the West judges Arab societies that mutilate women and girls objectionable, it is likely to judge appeasing them as objectionable and so reject the political message of Tamir and her comrades. And so, as she sees it, it behooves "feminists" like her to defend clitoridectomies, which she did in that article.
As far as Tamir is concerned, cutting out a girl's genitalia is no different from pulling her teeth. As she put it, "Removing a tooth is also a painful procedure, often imposed on children, and if performed in non-hygienic conditions, it can produce permanent damage." Tamir then went on to say that criticizing female genital mutilation is itself an act of misogyny because by expressing concern for the practice, critics objectify women. They reduce them to mere sexual objects.
So for Tamir the feminist, rejecting the superiority of Western culture – which allows her to freely express her demented views, vote, run for office, own property and control the fate of her genitals – over Islamic culture – which allows her to do none of these things – is more important than defending women. Indeed, she is willing to empty the rhetoric of women's rights of all intrinsic meaning to advance the interests of her radical leftist ideological platform against its rightist rivals who trenchantly criticize the mutilation of women and girls.
AND, OF course, Tamir is not alone. In the US presidential race, American feminists have lost all credibility as champions of women's rights in their support for the often pornographic, openly misogynist and unabashedly chauvinist assaults against Governor Sarah Palin. Kim Gandy, the leader of the National Organization for Women, has argued that due to Palin's opposition to abortion, she is not a woman.
Ignoring her record of servic
e and achievement in Alaskan politics, leftist commentators and politicians have attacked her clothes, her shoes, her hair, her glasses, her children, her figure. They have insinuated perverted sexual proclivities and they have accused her of everything from harlotry to illiteracy.
In an interview with Yediot Aharonot on Friday, the leftist American novelist Paul Auster said of Palin, "There is something erotic about Palin that attracts people to her. Someone said that she reminds him of a strict schoolmarm, who wears a stripper's costume under her modest clothing. I know this might sound funny, but I think that a lot of men are attracted to her and fantasize about being with her in bed. Particularly because she is conservative and far from all these erotic descriptions, the fantasy becomes even more powerful."
Auster then warned that if Palin is elected vice president, "a lot of good values will disappear from this country and we will become an evil, ugly country."
It apparently never occurred to him that his "funny" statements about Palin are the very epitome of ugliness and the absence of values like decency, tolerance and respect for women. And that's the thing of it.
THE ESSENCE of liberal democracy – the edifice on which liberalism and the democratic form of government were built – is reasoned discourse. Reasoned discourse can only take place when words like "values," "democracy," "law," "rights" and "equality" have intrinsic meanings that all members of society accept. When the Left empties these terms of their fundamental meaning and uses them only to enhance its political power at the expense of the Right, reasoned discourse is abandoned in favor of propaganda.
When equal rights are the exclusive privilege of leftist women rather than the natural right of all women, no woman can ever trust that her rights will be preserved. When the rhetoric of law is abused to advance the political power of the Left instead of defending the cause of blind justice, the rule of law is sacrificed in the name of leftist tyranny. When the cause of a nation is ignored in the interest of the fortunes of a faction, the fortunes of that faction will be advanced at the expense of the nation.
Auster told Yediot that the political discourse in the US has become so charged that dialogue is no longer possible between leftists and rightists. In his words, "We have reached a point where the two sides are no longer capable of speaking to one another, and I view this situation as a sort of civil war. There are no weapons or shooting. This is a civil war of ideas and separate ways of thinking, and often a war of ideas is the worst sort of war."
Auster's statement is true, and it applies to the entire Western world. But it is also true that one side bears the brunt of responsibility for the absence of discourse. The side that has destroyed the meaning of democracy, liberalism, feminism and racism to castigate and criminalize its political opponents is responsible for the absence of dialogue. And until the Left is compelled to acknowledge the intrinsic meaning of words rather than use vocabulary as a tool of political warfare, it is hard to see how this situation will improve.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.