Canadian Institute for Jewish Research
L'institut Canadien de Recherches sur le Judaisme
Strength of Israel will not lie


Danny Ayalon

Jerusalem Post, February 26, 2012

…Israel’s electoral and governmental system is failing and moving us toward political paralysis. The writing has been on the wall for some time, and soon it may be too late to make the necessary change.…

In Israel, there is no sufficient separation of powers. Around a third of the Knesset Members serve as ministers or deputy ministers and are thus forbidden to introduce laws or participate in committees. There are few apposite checks and balances, in fact, farcically, the opposite is true; as an MK, I am expected to conduct oversight of my role as Deputy Foreign Minister.

The electoral threshold is among the lowest in the world, which allows parties representing narrow interests to hold the balance of power. According to research, almost three-quarters of all government decisions are not implemented. Our political structure and culture is sorely lacking credibility and accountability.

As a result of this unwieldy system, we have changed government, on average, every two years since the founding of the state. This state of affairs does not allow for an appropriate formulation and implementation of long-term policy.

These are just some of the disadvantages which are dragging Israel’s political system toward stagnation and even collapse. We merely need to examine the challenges and crises we have faced during the past few years to appreciate that the source of the problem and the lack of solutions are connected to our current method of government.

The housing shortage and the high cost of living that brought people to the streets this past summer are a result of the lack of a long-term social-economic policy. There has been no consistent housing policy to answer the needs of a growing population. Short-term interests have outweighed the public’s needs and led to increasing social gaps.

The Carmel Forest disaster became far worse because the funds necessary for the maintenance and improvement of Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services were redirected elsewhere to support narrow interests.

The assault on Israel’s legitimacy is our new battlefield. Opposite the formulated, coherent, repetitive Palestinian narrative, our messages are stunted by constantly changing governments, agendas and even by coalition members from different parties. Often I am asked with confusion by my colleagues in the international community which version is Israel’s official position. In most nations in the world, the Housing Minister would not be able to make public statements about national security issues.

In recent weeks we witnessed a farce in the Israel National Railways. Many citizens were left without any way of getting to work. Railways workers’ committee chairwoman Gila Edri has seen 12 ministers of transportation in her 22 years at the railway. Is it any wonder she thinks she is in control of the railways system?

For decades Iran’s nuclear ambitions were well known. Today, as the clock is about to strike midnight, we are desperately seeking a tactical solution for what should have been a carefully thought-out long-term strategy. For the past 20 years, while Iran has advanced its program to become a very real and present danger, we have had 10 defense ministers. While the Iranians constantly moved toward nuclear weapons, we constantly moved toward elections. The defense of Israel, of the entire Jewish people, must not be treated like a game of musical chairs.

[Another] long-term threat to this country is the increasingly intolerable ratio between those who contribute and those who merely benefit. Under the current failing system of government, in which in order to establish a coalition one must court the small parties, the large parties have conceded the minimal demands of participating in the national effort, to maintain some sort of pseudostability.

During the early years of the state, the vast majority of the population contributed to the country; working, paying taxes, serving in the army and feeling part of wider society. Those who received without giving back were far fewer. However, in the near future, half of the Israeli population will benefit from without contributing to the state. Those who contribute are collapsing under the tax burden, with increasing professional and security demands. These are the characteristics of a society with a tenuous future….

As politicians and elected servants of the people we must act responsibly and change the system. Israel must adopt a system with a proper separation of powers, checks and balances and accountability. The executive branch should be comprised of people according to their expertise and skill in a field rather than the pressures of coalition-building. We must raise the electoral threshold to a point where we will stabilize governance without hurting representation.

We need to establish a constitution that will uphold the spirit of our Declaration of Independence and replace the current quasi-constitutional Basic Laws as set by the judiciary. The constitution will define the nature of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state, /and/ will state the core values of our state…

Israel’s many achievements have been gained despite the system and not because of it. Israel is full of wonderful people with moral and creative abilities. Our people deserve a system that will fulfill its interests and will lead our nation to a better, safer and more equal future.

(Danny Ayalon is Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister.)

Daniel Friedmann

Jerusalem Post, February 19, 2012

The retirement [in February] of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch provides an opportunity to briefly discuss Israel’s legal revolution, and assess its aftermath.

Some 20 years ago, in 1992, the Knesset adopted the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. This promptly led former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak to declare the arrival of a legal revolution which empowered the court to invalidate Knesset legislation that did not conform to this Basic Law. Actually, at this stage the Israeli legal system was already undergoing a drastic transformation that began with appointment of Justice Meir Shamgar to the presidency of the Supreme Court in 1983.

Principles that were once considered elementary and religiously followed were replaced by rules that greatly extended the court’s power. The rule under which a petitioner to the Supreme Court needed to show “standing,” namely a personal interest that justified the application, had been abolished, thus opening the door to a flood of applications by every person who wished to take issue with any governmental or administrative decision.…

This development was coupled with the expansion of “unreasonableness” as ground for judicial review. As a result every governmental or administrative decision, including every appointment, became appealable. The range of applications seemed inexhaustible….

Petitions were also submitted to quash appointments to governmental positions on the ground that they were “unreasonable,” for example on the grounds of the candidate’s past misconduct or even because of statements he made that were not politically correct.…

Nevertheless, during the period of Shamgar’s presidency the court remained cautious in matters of security and recognized, at least in principle, that matters in which the dominant elements were political were not justiciable. When Barak became president of the Supreme Court in 1995, however, whatever restraints still remained on the court’s jurisdiction soon disappeared.

Every issue was considered justiciable, and every governmental act or decision, including in the field of defense and security, could be examined by the court on the basis of its reasonableness. As a result, the court became involved in military affairs even in the course of ongoing operations.

In fact, it became commonplace for petitions to the Supreme Court to be submitted within hours after the beginning of any military operation, relating to the mode of the operation, the supply of humanitarian aid to the civil population, etc. Army officers were summoned to the court while the operation was still going on with a demand to supply explanations and provide details of the events and the measures taken. The bottom line of these developments has been the transformation of the court’s function, from a tribunal mainly concerned with resolving disputes between parties into a body that regards its function as overseeing, and taking part in, the governance of the country.

These developments led to the “overlegalization” of the whole system of government in Israel, in which legal advice is required for every step taken. The idea of the rule of law was turned into the rule of lawyers and judges. The work of the various branches of government was disrupted and the work of the court itself became confounded, as the line between cases that are legitimately within its province and those that should be confined to other branches became blurred.

Consequently, in the course of Barak’s presidency criticism of the court became more vocal and public confidence in the court dramatically declined. In the year 2000, former president of the Supreme Court Moshe Landau, who retired in 1982, gave a very exceptional interview to Haaretz in which he leveled a devastating attack on Aharon Barak and the Supreme Court.

Landau spoke of Barak leading the court the wrong way, and said that the court was getting involved in a morass of political opinions and beliefs, which was dangerous both for the state and the court. He said that court “displays arrogance and pretension” and added that “In The Republic, Plato suggested entrusting the government of the republic to a class of elders who were specially trained and educated for this purpose. It sometimes seems to me that most of the justices on the Supreme Court see themselves more or less as governing elders.”…

Justice Beinisch was appointed to the Supreme Court shortly after the retirement of president Shamgar, who refused to appoint her. She became (with Justice Yaakov Tirkel) Barak’s first appointment. When she replaced Barak as president upon his retirement she was presumably expected to maintain his heritage. She has done her best, but this was mission impossible.

Public confidence in the Supreme Court dropped considerably and the high cost of the court’s overt activism became more and more evident. During the course of her presidency Ministers of Justice were unwilling to abide by the court’s wishes and the court lost much of the control it once had over appointments to its ranks. Eventually Beinisch had to accept the appointments of Justices Neil Handel and Noam Solberg, to whom she strongly objected.

Objections to the court’s activist approach are heard even within the Supreme Court. One of those critics is Justice Asher Grunis, who recognizes that not everything is justiciable and advocates great restraint in the use of unreasonableness as ground for invalidating governmental decisions. Grunis will become next president of the Supreme Court. After years of legal revolution, we may be on the way to recovery.

(The writer is a former Israeli Minister of Justice.)

Evelyn Gordon

Jerusalem Magazine, March 19, 2012

The Iron Dome anti-missile system has been popularly dubbed the hero of the recent violence out of Gaza, and in some ways, rightly so. It prevented casualties and property damage. It spared countless Israelis the anguish of having a loved one injured or killed or a house destroyed. It saved significant amounts of money: Despite costing far more than the Palestinians’ Qassam and Grad rockets, an Iron Dome missile costs less than rebuilding a home or factory or treating severe injuries—expenses the government would otherwise have to cover, since by law, it must compensate its citizens for all terrorism-related damage.

Finally, Iron Dome gave the government diplomatic and military maneuvering room. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that now, when Israel has finally managed to focus international attention on Iran…is not the moment to divert the world’s attention back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, such a diversion was likely what the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad sought when it seized on Israel’s killing of a senior official from another organization, the Popular Resistance Committees, as an excuse for massive rocket fire on the south.

Nevertheless, Iron Dome could easily become the villain of the story, by making the government consider onslaughts like last week’s “tolerable.”

In reality, what happened last week was in no way tolerable. Hundreds of thousands of children kept home from school for a week (since the rocket fire continued even after a “cease-fire” was announced) isn’t “tolerable”—especially when this scenario can be repeated over and over, whenever the terrorists feel like it. Tens of thousands of parents forced by school closures to either skip work to take care of their children or leave them alone with their rocket-induced fears isn’t “tolerable.” One million citizens living in dread (since they know Iron Dome can’t provide hermetic protection) isn’t “tolerable.” Thousands of children and adults with post-traumatic stress syndrome—which repeated rocket strikes can cause even in the absence of casualties—isn’t “tolerable.”

Yet Israel’s response ensured that this scenario will be repeated over and over. Precisely because it felt Iron Dome had made restraint possible by preventing Israeli casualties, the government, eager to avoid an escalation, made do with exacting a minuscule price from the terrorists. Altogether, Israel killed 26 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists. But aside from that one senior PRC official, these terrorists were all low-level operatives, members of rocket-launching crews killed in the act. That’s a trivial price for Islamic Jihad to pay.…

So here’s what Islamic Jihad and its fellow terrorists have learned from this episode: They can launch some 300 rockets at Israel in four days and pay almost no price for doing so. I can’t put it better than a senior official from another Palestinian faction, Fatah, did in an interview with a Hebrew paper: “Islamic Jihad is able to send one-third of Israel’s population into bomb shelters…[and] threw Israel into a panic without paying a very steep price. Did you assassinate its senior figures? Did you undermine the organization? Hardly.”

Moreover, even those benefits Iron Dome did provide would evaporate in a larger-scale rocket attack, which Hamas and Hezbollah are both capable of mounting, and especially one from Lebanon and Gaza simultaneously. Israel doesn’t have enough Iron Dome batteries to handle a large-scale assault, nor will it in the foreseeable future.

Yet despite all this, the government and army seem to be preparing us for the idea that endless repeats of last week are the best we can hope for. As Yaakov Katz chillingly reported in The Jerusalem Post, there’s an “understanding within the defense establishment that there is currently no clear and decisive military solution to the Gaza-based terror threat,” and therefore, “what Israel is facing is a sequence of rounds of violence, like the [recent] one…"

This is simply mind-boggling. As Katz’s report opened by noting, this month marks the tenth anniversary of Operation Defensive Shield, when the Israel Defense Forces reoccupied Palestinian-controlled portions of the West Bank in what proved to be a winning counterterrorism formula: “While terror attacks still take place, the frequency and number of casualties has reached an all-time low. In 2011, for example, the IDF Central Command recorded nine shooting attacks in the entire West Bank.… In 2002, there were 2,878 such attacks, and up until 2006 the annual number was over 1,000.”

And Katz neglected to add that not one single rocket has ever been fired at Israel from the IDF-controlled West Bank, compared with over 8,000 fired from Gaza since the IDF left in 2005, and approximately 500 fired before then from the large swathes of Gaza ceded to the Palestinians in 1994…

In short, there is a “clear and decisive military solution to the Gaza-based terror threat,” and it’s the same one applied so successfully in the West Bank: long-term military control of the entire territory. That is the only way both to thoroughly uproot the terrorist infrastructure and to convince the Palestinian public that terrorism doesn’t pay….


Lawrence Solomon

Financial Post, February 26, 2012

How do you survive when you’re surrounded by enemies, as is Israel? You win allies among the nations that surround your enemies. This increasingly successful Israeli approach—dubbed the periphery strategy—exploits an arsenal of Israeli assets that its new-found allies need: Israel’s military, its counterterrorism skills, its technology, and especially of late, its surprising wealth of hydrocarbons.

Israel’s periphery strategy is nothing new. After Israel survived its war of independence in the late 1940s, when it was invaded by six neighbouring Arab armies, Israel set about winning friends in the Middle East among non-Arabs. In this it succeeded wildly—Israel won friends among black African states, to which it transferred water-conserving agricultural technologies; among small non-Arab Muslim countries and ethnic groups that were at odds with the Arab states, and with Iran and Turkey, two non-Arab regional powers that became full-blown military allies.

Then the strategy all but collapsed with the OPEC oil boycott of 1973. “Stay friends with Israel and we’ll cut you off from oil,” the Arab states told the many poor oil-dependent countries that had relations with Israel. Poor countries felt they had no choice but to comply. Israel was from that point mostly abandoned, its former friends suddenly harsh critics at the United Nations, where they voted en masse to condemn Israel in one Arab-sponsored resolution after another.

Now Israel’s periphery strategy is back big time, thanks largely to hydrocarbon diplomacy. Apart from a major oil find in its interior, Israel has known gas reserves of some $130-billion in the Mediterranean, with some estimating that twice as much will materialize as exploration continues. Israel’s Mediterranean neighbour, the island nation of Cyprus, is also discovering immense amounts of gas in the sea bed adjacent to Israel’s. The two are now developing their gas jointly, with plans to export it to Europe or Asia or both. Greece, which may have more oil and gas in its extensive Mediterranean waters than either, is now talking of joining Cyprus and Israel in joint ventures.

The sea change in the attitude of Greece and Cyprus is breathtaking. Until recently, these two ethnically Greek nations were frigidly cold toward Israel, partly because they believed their economic interests lay in the more populous Arab world, partly because they feared for the safety of the 250,000-member Greek community in Egypt if they were to establish good relations with Israel.

Today the Greek calculus has changed. Not only did Greek trade with Arab states fail to blossom, the Greek presence in Egypt has all but vanished. Egypt’s Greek-owned industries were nationalized; Egypt’s Greeks were persecuted for their Christian faith. The official remaining count for Egyptian Greeks, once the most affluent and influential minority in Egypt, is but 3,000.

In contrast, Greeks now have common cause with Israel in exploiting their hydrocarbon riches and in defending them—Turkey, an enemy of the two Greek nations as well as Israel, has vowed to stop both Cyprus and Greece from developing their hydrocarbons on the basis of long-standing territorial claims. The Israeli-Greek-Cypriot alliance is likely strong enough to stand up to Turkey and allow these new-found friends to profit together.

But for Israel, profit is only the half of it, as a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu told the press in an interview, when the two were in Cyprus to further the nations’ hydrocarbon co-operation. “Gas is our strategic interest. It is…a diplomatic tool for creating new partnerships, first in our region, as well as with the great powers of India and China.”

Israel views Cyprus and Greece as part of the “Western arc” of its periphery strategy, along with other European countries such as Christian Romania and Bulgaria, and Muslim Albania, which has been a standout defender of Israel in the United Nations. Israel now also has allies to the east, such as Georgia and Azerbaijan in Central Asia. And as part of its southern diplomacy, Israel recently established an East African alliance with predominantly Christian Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and South Sudan designed to fend off Iran and Islamist terrorism. Israel’s stock in East Africa is particularly high because of its role in gaining independence for South Sudan, the world’s newest state….

Focus on Israel and it appears to be a tiny isolated country surrounded by a sea of hostile Arab nations. Zoom out, though, and it is the Arab nations that are revealed to be isolated, increasingly surrounded by age-old adversaries, most of which have growing ties to Israel. With Israel’s hydrocarbon assets continuing to grow, and with Israel’s military and intelligence assets remaining dominant in the region, Israel’s periphery diplomacy has emerged as one of the country’s remarkable achievements.