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The Arrogance of Israel's Elite: Tyranny of the Judiciary and the Media
Yonason Rosenblum

The Arrogance of Israel's Elite:
Tyranny of the Judiciary and the Media

Yonason Rosenblum

I. Introduction

Little remains in modern Israel of the old Zionist ideology. The communitarian ideals of the founding fathers have been replaced by individualistic ones. But in one respect there is continuity between Israel's founding generation and certain present day elites: a cast of mind that can best be described as Bolshevik. As Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Schach shlita has often said, "The only real Bolsheviks in the world today are in Israel."

That Bolshevik mindset is characterized by absolute conviction in the rightness of one's views, which are presumed to be those of all enlightened, progressive people: a contempt for those groups in society who have failed to grasp the Truth as seen by the elites, a belief in one's right – nay, duty – to use all the means at one's disposal to reeducate those who still dwell in the dark, and a hostility to some of the basic values of democratic society, including representative government and the free flow of information to the public.

Ironically, these attitudes are most frequently found in Israel today among those who view themselves as the avatars of freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law. In particular, they characterize the Israeli media and judicial system.

Though most of the examples that follow are not drawn from the arena of religious/secular conflict in modern Israeli society, it is the religious/chareidi community that finds itself most threatened by our new Bolsheviks in yuppie guise. For the elites that dominate the media and judicial system correctly recognize the values of the religious community as the greatest challenge to their own, and religious Jews as the group least capable of being assimilated into the uniform society for which they yearn.1

Five Centers of Power

Israeli society can be described in terms of five centers of power: the Knesset, the economy, the judicial system, the media, and the army. Until 1977, each of these five was dominated by the left-wing parties. The Right never came close to winning control of the Knesset, the army officer corps was largely filled with products of the kibbutzim, and the Labor-controlled Histadrut held sway over vast segments of the economy. The Labor party often treated the coffers of the party, the Histadrut, and the government as interchangeable pockets on the same garment.

With the election of Menachem Begin as Prime Minister in 1977, however, that scenario changed radically. Likud-led governments have been in power the majority of the time since then. The junior officer corps of the army today includes far more young men wearing kippot srugot than kibbutzniks, though the upper echelons of the officer corps still remain largely impervious to religious soldiers. The once powerful Histadrut as but a shadow of its former self, and its share of national economic activity has declined rapidly.

The only areas, then, where the once dominant Ashkenazi elites continue to hold sway are the print and broadcast media, and in the judicial system. Indeed, as the other sectors of Israeli society have opened up, the media and legal establishment have become ever more homogenous and have succeeded in concentrating ever greater power in their hands.

It is not coincidental that the gradual ascendancy of the Israeli Supreme Court coincides with Menachem Begin’s election as Prime Minister. Ruth Gavison, Professor of Law at the Hebrew University and current president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, described in a November 12 interview in Ha'Aretz's Weekend Magazine how the Israeli judicial system "serves as the last refuge for elements of the old elites who feel the only institution that is still under their control and represents their values is the Court." As a consequence, those old elites "have a natural tendency to aggrandize the power of the Court, and in fact to use it in order to curb or restrain the process of democratization [of Israeli society]." The interview sent shock waves through the Israeli legal world.

Though she herself is sympathetic to most of the substantive outcomes of Supreme Court decisions under Chief Justice Aharon Barak, she views Barak's "constitutional revolution" as "an attempt by the veteran elite to work through a constitution and through the Court -- which will rule on every constitutional issue – in order to create a conceptually homogeneous constitutional framework for a population that is far from homogeneous.''

That process, opined Professor Gavison, ignores the beliefs of more than half of Israel's citizens – the Arabs, the religious population, Sephardim, and traditionalists – and "can only be seen as an act of coercion, . . . an attempt to curb [Israel's] heterogeneous and non-Western and not necessarily secular elected political system by subordinating it to a homogeneous judicial system that is Western and secular."

Professor Gavison's focus is on the Israeli legal system. Only tangentially did she deal with the other great bastion of elite power: the media. Yet the two centers of power – the legal system and the media – cannot be separated from one another. They, by and large, reflect the same values, and reinforce one another's power. Ari Shavit (who incidentally interviewed Professor Gavison) charged last year:

In present day Israel, there exists an almost absolute identity between those persons dedicated to the idea of peace in its most radical-dovish version, and those journalists, lawyers, and academics who are charged with setting the civil and legal norms and the flow of information. . . . A certain camp, very well defined, fulfills three or four functions: they are the players, the judge, they report and they explain the process on the various media outlets.

Above all, what joins these two overlapping elites is their arrogance: their contempt for, and suspicion of, the general Israeli populace and their willingness to use whatever power they possess to advance their goals without respect for accepted democratic norms.

II. The Media2

Prominent figures in the Israeli media do not deny what is obvious to all: the media is not representative of Israeli society. Moshe Kirschenbaum, the former director-general of the Israel Broadcast Authority, cheerfully admits that most journalists are "very liberal, avant-garde, and open-minded." Ha'Aretz editor Chanoch Marmori characterizes his fellow print and electronic journalists as members of a "small, elitist, well-off, urban and secular group."

The left-wing leanings of the Israeli media hardly make it unique. What is unique to Israel is the comfort those in the media feel with advancing their own political agenda. Scoffing at the notion of objectivity or fairness, even those working in public broadcasting view their positions as private fiefdoms to use as they wish. Every time their professional ethics are challenged, they raise the bogie man of "political interference" in the broadcast media as a defense against all constraints.

A June 1996 Gallup poll found that 70% of Israelis feel that news reporters interject their own opinions into their work. In another survey in late 1996, a whopping 77% felt that the media lacked objectivity when reporting about then Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Nor did the journalists themselves deny the charge. Maariv's Ron Meiberg, writing of that same period, confessed, "as journalists and as opinionated people, we were never so mobilized to bring down the Prime Minister and to hold up for ridicule his idiotic behavior." Ha'Aretz's political reporter Orit Galili characterized the press in the 1996 campaign as "completely mobilized on behalf of Peres." (At least she saw this as a professional failure.)

Aharon Goldfinger, the producer of Popolitika, then Israel TV's most popular current affairs program, declared after a broadcast two days after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, " I will pursue them, the Likud, and you may even quote me on that." He railed at the night's panelists for not have been sufficiently aggressive in attacking the Likud, and declared that as long as he was producer right-wing opinions would never again be allowed to prevail on the show. Though these remarks were widely reported at the time, Goldfinger remained in his post.

The Many Forms of Media Mobilization

The media mobilization takes many forms. One is suppressing unfavorable stories about those whose careers the media wishes to advance. Thus when Chief Justice Barak told a group of reporters that the Supreme Court could not add more Sephardi justices without diluting its professional quality, the slur was virtually ignored by the mainstream media. On the eve of the 1996 elections, Shimon Peres responded to Israeli Arab criticism of the Grapes of Wrath bombing in Southern Lebanon, "Those stupid Arabs." The remark bordered on political suicide, given Peres' dependence on a large Arab vote. Realizing this, the large cohort of journalists present decided among themselves to kill the story, and it went largely unreported.

Not only does the media suppress information that it fears will have adverse political consequences, it shows precious little interest in investigating stories that do not suit its political purposes. In April 1996, for instance, Prime Minister Shimon Peres reported that the Palestinian National Council had revoked the PLO Covenant calling for the destruction of Israel. Likud's Benny Begin insisted that nothing of the kind had occurred and that the Prime Minister was an active party to a ruse. The press either ignored or ridiculed Begin. Two years later, however, Joel Singer, the Israeli legal advisor on the Oslo Accords, revealed that Peres and Arafat had knowingly misled the Israeli public.

The media showed a similar lack of interest in Arafat’s Arabic speeches, after the signing of the Oslo Accords, calling for jihad against Israel. Only because Shimon Peres accused Benny Begin of using doctored clips of those speeches did their existence become widely known.

Even worse, Israel's public broadcasting falsifies the information that it presents to the public. Shortly before the Rabin assassination, the IBA broadcast an initiation ceremony of the extreme right-wing Eyal organization, in which the new initiates threatened menacingly to murder their opponents.

The broadcast created a furor in Israel, and played a major role in delegitimizing the entire settler community. A few days after it was aired, an Arab was found murdered near Hebron, and the Eyal organization claimed responsibility. Prime Minister Rabin and Police Minister Shahal were quick to blame right-wing settlers for the murder and for weakening Israel's bargaining position over Hebron.3

Only one little problem. Eyal was a creation from whole-cloth of the General Security Services (GSS) and its operative Avishai Raviv, and this was known by the Prime Minister. The Shamgar Commission on the Rabin assassination concluded that the Eyal swearing-in ceremony was entirely staged "and that anyone who was there had to be aware that it was staged."4 Nevertheless the journalist responsible for filming the fake ceremony continues to be employed by IBA. The clip itself continues to be aired – as recently as last month on a popular news show – as an example of the incitement preceding the Rabin assassination.

Another classic example of IBA disinformation was the clip of then Prime Minister Netanyahu at a Betar Jerusalem rally at which some fans shouted "Death to the Arabs." Nearly a minute was spliced out of the tape to make it appear that Netanyahu was waving and smiling in response to the shouts, which were picked up by a mike far away from where he was speaking.

IBA makes no effort at balance in its commentary. Even after the IBA was ordered by the Supreme Court to provide a cross-section of commentators on its end of the week Yoman program, left-wing commentator Aharon Avramovitz continued to offer 85% of the commentaries (down from 100%). On two popular interview programs the ratio of left-wing to right-wing guests runs between 7:3 to 8:2.

Professor Rina Shapiro, former IBA Chairperson, admitted that the IBA does "not maintain an adequate dialogue with various communities and therefore, a religious network, and a Russian network, and a Shas network will inevitably arise. The television [broadcasts] do not even attempt to reach a common denominator.'' Yet despite the obvious imbalance in IBA broadcasting and the irrelevance of much of its programming to large segments of the population, left-wing and secular forces have fought non-stop to preserve their monopoly over the sources of information.

No sooner were the last election results in, with the shocking news that Shas had won 17 seats, than a concerted effort began to close down the entire network of Shas pirate stations. The police suddenly discovered that their broadcasts were interfering with traffic controllers at Ben Gurion airport. No such efforts were invested, however, in closing down similar Arab stations, which are at least as numerous and many of which are broadcast from much closer to the airport.5

Though Israel has one of the most underutilized radio bands in the Western world, Meretz leader Yossi Sarid has declared himself firmly opposed to an official religious station. "I'm opposed to sectorial stations,'' he says. Perhaps Sarid has not noticed that at present government broadcasting is sectorial -- only the sector represented is Meretz supporters; or perhaps he noticed very well. The Left's sustained efforts to close down Arutz-7, the settler radio station – despite a law passed by the Knesset legalizing it – derive from a similar desire to limit the sources of news, lest the lower orders be confused by too much information or by being required to evaluate more than one version of events.

Even though the public is well aware of the biases of the Israeli media, it would be a grave mistake to think that it does not wield great influence. The constant exposure to views representing one side of the political or religious spectrum has a cumulative effect. Veteran IBA news anchorman Chaim Yavin was not far off when he boasted: "Without the Israeli press, there would have been no peace process. Without the Israeli press, the Intifada would not have led to Oslo."

III. The Legal System

Professor Gavison provides an analysis of Israel's legal system that in many respects parallels the analysis of the media provided above. Much of what she said in her Ha'Aretz interview has been said before by others. But because of her prestige and because her criticisms cut to the very fundamentals of the legal system, Professor Gavison's impact was a hundred-fold that of other critics of the Court. She has now made the Court and Israel's legal system a legitimate subject of criticism.

The legal system she describes is a closed, insular society of like-minded people, much like the media world. The manner of appointment of Israel's Supreme Court justices is both a symptom and a cause of this insularity. Justices are selected by a committee of nine members: three sitting justices, including the Court president, two representatives of the Bar, two members of the Knesset Law Committee from different parties, the Minister of Justice, and one other Knesset member. Thus a majority of the committee is composed of non-elected members.

In practice, the process is completely controlled by the Court President, who selects the other two justices. No candidate has ever been approved without the unanimous approval of the three sitting justices, and it is the Court President who initiates virtually every candidacy for the Court.

Nor does the power of the Court's President end there. He controls all judicial appointments to lower courts as well. As a consequence, ambitious lower court judges, academics, State Attorneys, or Attorney-Generals, who aspire to reach the pinnacle of the Israeli legal world, know that their advancement depends on finding favor in the eyes of the Court president. Thus his influence extends throughout the legal system.

The appointment power vested in the Court President has led to a situation in which the justices of the Supreme Court bear an uncanny resemblance to one another both ideologically and sociologically. Israel's Supreme Court is effectively a Court of one: the Court President and fourteen clones.

That uniformity is continuous over time. With no input from the elected branches of government, there is no possibility of the shifts in judicial approach that regularly occur on the United States Supreme Court.6

The result, as Professor Gavison puts it, is a legal system that becomes "a kind closed of sect -- a sect which is too uniform and which effectively perpetuates itself." That self-perpetuation undermines one of the bases of a democratic society: the perception by various groups that even if their views do not prevail today, they may do so tomorrow

Like most cults, never exposed to opposing ideas, the Court is marked by a singular lack of humility. The justices show no doubts about their own infinite wisdom or their right to impose their values on the broader society. Judicial restraint -- the view that in a democratic society some decisions are properly for other branches of government, even if its members are less wise -- does not exist, as the Court marches on under the slogan "everything is justiciable."

A judge, posits Court President Barak, should be guided in the exercise of his discretion by the "values of the enlightened society in whose midst he dwells." For him, those values are not those reflecting a widespread societal consensus, but those held by a particular segment of society -- the progressive, forward-looking elements.

It is precisely Barak's willingness to give preference to the values of one segment of society over another that so troubles Professor Gavison:

I do not think it is right for the Court to make use of its power to give priority to the values of one group in society at the expense of the values held by other groups. I do not think it is right for the court to decide in favor of Westernism and against traditionalism; in favor of modernity and individualism and against communitarianism. . . .

Precisely when the Court purports to be a supreme moral authority, it undercuts its legitimacy as a supreme judicial authority. . . . As a supreme moral authority it is far from clear that the Court is better than Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. . . There are many people in this country for whom Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is the supreme moral authority and for whom the halacha is a supra-legal authority. The Court should not ignore them. The Court should not compete with Rabbi Yosef for their hearts. . . . It should make clear that it functions in a different space . . . .

But that is precisely what the Court has not been doing, in Gavison's opinion: "[The Court's] methods sometimes recall the period of the philosopher-king, who informs the citizens from on high what their values are supposed to be."

The Secret of the Court’s Efficacy: Secrecy

Because the constitutional process in Israel under Justice Barak involves the imposition of the set of values held by one segment of society on other segments of society, it must be carried out surreptitiously, without its "beneficiaries" knowing fully what is happening. Professor Gavison candidly describes the argument of her colleagues in the upper echelons of the legal world that a "hush-hush" policy must be followed if Israel is to achieve a "enlightened, liberal constitutional format."

And that is precisely what has occurred. Israel is undoubtedly the first country in the world whose constitution was declared by the Supreme Court.To the extent that Israel today has a constitution, it is only because Justice Barak declared in the United Mizrachi Bank case that the two Basic Laws passed in 1992 conferred on the Court the right to strike down Knesset legislation. Neither the Knesset members who allegedly formulated the constitution nor their constituents had the slightest idea that they were enacting a constitution.

Thus two laws, passed in the middle of the night, with less than half the members of the Knesset voting, were elevated by Justice Barak to constitutional status. In a rare show of disagreement on the Court, Justice Cheshin ridiculed the idea that Basic Laws passed in a manner no different than any piece of humdrum Knesset legislation should be granted such exalted status:

The day a constitution is granted is a festive day, a holiday. All know: "Here the constitution is about to be given; there the constitution has been given. . . ."

We have never heard of a dispute as to whether a certain body had acquired legal authority to grant a constitution. We have certainly never heard of such a question being posed as a legal question to be resolved by a court.. . . The very existence of such a disagreement demonstrates how untenable is the conclusion that the present day Knesset was exercising constituent power.

The idea that a nation can acquire a constitution without anyone knowing about it except the President of the Supreme Court leads Gavison to warn:

We are liable to wake up one morning to find that we have a rigid constitution without having known or seen or read or been asked for our opinion about it. Without a proper public debate taking place and without broad agreement being reached as to the values that we want standing at the center of our constitutional and political arrangements, . . . large segments of the population will again be left with the feeling that something has been forced upon them. That is both wrong and dangerous.

IV. The Media-Courts Conspiracy

Because the constitutional process pushed by Court President Barak depends on secrecy, or, at the very least, a lack of public understanding for its success, the media has a crucial role in its furtherance. It does this in two ways: by withholding crucial information from the public and by delegitimizing all criticism of the Court. The media is then a full partner in what Gavison terms the "enlightened paternalism" of those pushing the constitutional process. Crucial proposals, such as the recommendations of the Orr Commission7 on Court Reorganization, receive little attention and the public has no awareness of their significance, Gavison charges.

The Orr Commission recommendations are designed to free the Supreme Court to concentrate exclusively on the types of cases that are the source of its vast power -- suits challenging the decisions of the executive branch as "unreasonable." Another recent proposal put forward by Justice Barak would allow Court President to extend the terms of judges past the mandatory retirement age at his discretion. By giving him another bonus to hand out to favored parties, it would give Barak even more control over the entire judicial system than at present. Such naked power grabs, however, are never exposed as such.

Nor is the Israeli public aware of precisely how controversial much of the Court's agenda is even within the legal community itself. According to Gavison, "There are deep disputes today [within the legal community] over all the questions on the public agenda: over a constitution, the basic laws, the status of the Court, the Orr Commission reforms."

She herself provides the best example of the type of criticism that is rarely heard outside of law school classrooms. She describes the current constitutional regime as "one court, which effectively appoints itself, creating the constitution by means of interpreting the Basic Laws, . . . and without any of the control mechanisms that exist in the United States. . . . From the point of view of democracy and the democratic decision-making process, this poses a not inconsiderable problem."

But the media shields the public from hearing this type of criticism by spreading a cloak of "secrecy over the judicial system and the judges in particular." Anyone who does criticize the judicial system, Gavison admits, pays a price. And when those critics are not distinguished professors, but outsiders, they are stigmatized completely as enemies of the rule of law and threats to democracy. Gavison notes with irony that "a system which is wholly tolerant and forgiving of extremely sharp statements made about . . . the prime minister and cabinet ministers is hyper-sensitive about every critical statement directed at the judicial system." The claimed immunity to criticism – e.g., the repeated threats to charge critics of Justice Barak with incitement – undermines, in Gavison's opinion, the very legitimacy of the judicial system: "A system that protects itself is a system that is suspect in the eyes of the public."

Other Players in the Judiciary Power Game

It is common for discussion of the Israeli legal system to focus exclusively on the Supreme Court because of the dominant role played by Court President in the entire legal system. Yet there are many other crucial players in the system, including the Attorney-General and the State Attorney. Each of these wield great power in their own right.8

The State Attorney's office, headed by the Attorney-General, forms its own tightly knit guild. Virtually all of whose members share the worldview of the old elite described above by Professor Gavison. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court and State Attorney's office often act in ways designed to reinforce one another's powers. (The offices of Attorney-General or State Attorney are considered the best path to a seat on the Court.) For instance, the vast powers wielded by the Attorney-General today are almost entirely of judicial creation and not anchored in Knesset legislation.

The Supreme Court has bestowed on the Attorney General the authority to declare virtually any government action illegal, and those determinations are generally both binding and unreviewable. Thus, while any Israeli citizen can obtain immediate Supreme Court review of his complaint against actions of the executive branch, the government itself cannot obtain such review when its legal position differs from that adopted by the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General has, in effect, become the Supreme Court's emissary, sitting within the executive branch and telling it what it can and cannot do.

The extent to which the State Attorney's office forms its own private fiefdom was brought dramatically to the fore last week when Justice Minister Yossi Beilin decided to fire the director-general of the Justice Ministry and replace her with his own choice. The discretion of a minister to choose his own director-general has never before been questioned. Yet every ranking member of the State Attorney's office, including the Attorney-General, signed a letter to the Justice Minister demanding that he rescind the firing. In justification of their position, they described the work of the Justice Ministry as purely professional and not political, and thus presumably beyond the reach of mere politicians such as the Justice Minister. As of this writing, Beilin is still defending himself against a suit in the Supreme Court to force him to rescind.

In the past, the State Attorney's office has gone even further to stifle those who threaten its prerogatives or those of the judicial system. Yaakov Neeman was the first Justice Minister in the Netanyahu government. One of Israel's top lawyers, Neeman well understood the extent to which the Supreme Court has appropriated powers to itself greater than any other high court in the world. As such, he represented a threat to the Court's hegemony.

Shortly after his appointment, Neeman was charged with filing an incorrectly dated affidavit in a court case, and on that basis forced to resign as Justice Minister.9 Though the case was thrown out, and the State Attorney's office was censured for bringing such a flimsy case, the damage had been done.

Neeman did not return as Justice Minister, and was replaced by Tzachi Hanegbi. Hanegbi himself was under ongoing criminal investigation, and thus eager to curry favor with the Court President, who might one day have to rule on an appeal from criminal proceedings against him. He proved to be a rubber stamp for everything that Justice Barak sought.

Less-Than-Pure Motives

One of Professor Gavison's most shocking charges in Ha'Aretz was that the State Attorney's office is suspect of being motivated by other that purely professional considerations in determining who to prosecute and how (i.e., with great or little fanfare). Referring to the prosecution of Aryeh Deri and the current investigation of former Prime Minister Netanyahu, she said:

What is bothersome is the feeling that an element of persecution is present in the system. The system denies this, but the denial is no longer convincing because the accumulation of cases has become too great. It arouses suspicion. . . .

We are constantly being told that everything is fine and that the work is carried out substantively and professionally. That response is no longer enough. Too many people think it is simply incorrect. . . . When the impression is formed that the rotten apples have become so much a part of the system that even the heads of the system no longer see them, then the feeling grows that the system is deeply flawed at its roots . . . .

In the disproportionate emphasis that the State Attorney's office gives to certain investigations at the expense of others, it mirrors the way the media focuses on certain cases of alleged wrongdoing and ignores others. While the press has been on a feeding frenzy for months over allegations that the Netanyahus did not pay a Jerusalem contractor for services rendered and that they did not return presents given them in their official capacity, it has almost ignored other major scandals or buried far from the front pages.

The trial of Shimon Sheves, who as director-general of the prime minister's office under Yitzchak Rabin was one of the most powerful men in the country, on charges of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from foreign countries, opened last week without fanfare or much coverage. As left-wing journalist Ron Meiberg admitted, by reporting on the Sheves case "as if it was referring to a medical bulletin or a survey about a cure for diabetes, [the media] is doing the Labor Party a great favor." Allegations of widespread illegal fundraising by the Barak campaign in the last elections, though covered sporadically on the inside pages, has still not found its Woodward and Bernstein.

The impression of many is that the accused's position on the political map determines the degree of coverage. Professor Gavison noted this disparity of coverage: "In some cases there is a superfluity of coverage at the very early stages, in a way that infringes on the privacy of those in question, while in other cases there is repression and a ban on publication. . . . It creates the impression that there is a technique at work for giving prominence to certain issues and not others."

Safeguarding Public Security or Private Privilege?

Indeed, the Gavison interview opened with a discussion of one such ban on publication. On November 2, Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein prohibited publication of a summary of a meeting in the office of his predecessor Michael Ben-Yair. The summary, he claimed, would "endanger public security." Eleven days later, long after the document had been placed on the Internet, the Israeli Supreme Court removed its own gag order, issued at Rubinstein's request, and sharply reprimanded the Attorney-General for attempting to suppress a document that had no connection to public security.

A brief examination of Rubinstein's actions and the way the Israeli press covered the issue provides a good case study of the many of the themes we have been developing.

The document in question dealt with a complaint filed by Israel's Media Watch demanding that the Attorney-General bring criminal proceedings against Eitan Oren, the reporter who filmed the staged swearing-in ceremony of the Eyal organization (see p.8 above). According to the summary, the Attorney-General saw no alternative to prosecuting Oren. He is quoted as saying:

The episode shocked television viewers and caused enormous damage, a virtual public storm. I just don't see how we can avoid beginning [criminal] proceedings. . . . I don't see a problem with the evidence. I don't see any problems in terms of his criminal intent. It is impossible to close the case without public exposure.

Everyone else in the room – State Attorney Edna Arbel, senior prosecutors, and representatives of the GSS – expressed concern that Oren would call Avishai Raviv to the stand, and that the latter would reveal everything connected to his actions as an agent provocateur on behalf of the GSS.

Much of the discussion concerned what grounds could be given for closing the file: "lack of public interest" or "lack of evidence." The Jerusalem District Attorney argued that the latter ground would be easier to defend if the closure of the file reached the Supreme Court. The meeting ended with Attorney-General Ben-Yair washing his hands of the matter and leaving it up to the State Attorney.

The reason that the Israeli Right was so intent on revealing the document is clear. Since the Rabin assassination, the Right has continuously claimed that the GSS orchestrated a systematic campaign to delegitimize the opposition to Oslo by planting agent provocateurs in their midst to create the impression that the entire Right is composed of violent extremists. It was, for instance, GSS agent Avishai Raviv who held up the famous photomontage of Rabin in an SS uniform at an anti-Oslo rally, and who was Yigal Amir's closest confidant in the months leading up to the Rabin assassination. For the Right, then, the document seemed to show that the State Attorney's office was intent on avoiding public discussion of Raviv's activities and their implications.

Many leading lights in the legal system had their own reasons for not wanting the document released. According to one GSS official present, Dorit Beinisch, former State Attorney and today a justice on the Supreme Court, gave approval for Raviv to engage in activities which would incriminate someone else who would then be arrested.

Even Attorney-General Rubinstein had his reasons for not wanting the document public, though he was not present at the meeting in question. For three and a half years, the State Attorney's office pushed off inquiries from Israel's Media Watch as to why no complaint had been filed against Oren with the response that the matter was under investigation. The document showed that response to be a lie: The decision not to prosecute on the grounds of "lack of evidence"' was made already nearly four years ago, for reasons having nothing to do with a lack of evidence.

Anyone old enough to remember the Pentagon Papers might have expected the Israeli media to raise a hue and a cry for release of the suppressed document. Far from it. If anything, the media followed the lead of Amnon Avramovits, who attempted to pooh-pooh the document as revealing nothing new. Though the document was easily available on Internet and had surely been read by the vast majority of print and broadcast journalists, few showed any curiosity as to why the Attorney-General was so determined to prevent its publications or what made it so important.

The media completely failed to accurately report the reason for the meeting described in the banned document: the complaint of Israel's Media Watch to the Attorney-General over the role of IBA reporter Eitan Oren in the staged Eyal induction ceremony. A conspiracy of silence seemed to surround the activities of one of the brotherhood. No one asked why a reporter who played an integral role in the staged Eyal induction ceremony is still on the air.

Even after the Supreme Court allowed publication of the summary of the meeting, the media confined itself to score-keeping of winners and losers in the affair. The underlying issue of the government's use of agent provocateurs as a means of delegitimizing opposition groups, however, still remained largely undiscussed.

The media showed a studied indifference to a document containing information sure to raise uncomfortable issues. When Israel's Media Watch called a press conference prior to release of the meeting minutes, not one national paper or TV station sent a reporter, despite the presence at the press conference of Likud's rising star MK Dr. Yuval Steinitz and one of Israel's best known attorneys and the bombshell nature of the issue.

Steinitz was plainly stunned by the total boycott, and commented that the press conference reminded him of one called by Jewish refuseniks for the Soviet press under the Communists.

After it was over, I remarked to him that I was encouraged by the fact that no Israeli media came. "Until now," I said, "I thought that only chareidim were considered non-persons, now I see that fifty percent of the population falls into that category."

But the truth is that there was no consolation in that fact, for it only shows how ruthless the media is in denying any legitimacy or humanity to those who fail to see the world as they do.


Yonason Rosenblum who lives in Jerusalem is a contributing editor to The Jewish Observer. He is also director of the Israeli division of Am Echad, the Agudath Israel-inspired educational outreach effort and media resource.

This article originally appeared in the December 1999 edition of the Jewish Observer. Copyright 1999 The Jewish Observer.


FOOTNOTES:

1. We have in the past dealt at length with the attacks on the religious community by the Israeli media and courts. See "The Israeli Supreme Court Against Democracyy" (JO Mar. ’99), and "He Who Judges Too Much Judges Not At All" (JO Nov. ’96).

2. Most of the examples in this section are drawn from "Israel's Electronic Broadcasting: Reporting or Managing the News?" by Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak.

3. The real murderers were subsequently caught. All were Arabs.

4. The IBA responded, on November 2, 1995, two days before the Rabin assassination, to questions raised about the authenticity of the clip that the segment was "authentic and worthy of journalistic coverage."

5. In fact, a leading engineering firm tested the broadcasting equipment of the major Shas stations and certified that they could not possibly cause interference on the bands used by the airport.

6. For a full treatment of the Israeli judicial appointment process see Mordechyai Haller, The Court That Packed Itself, Azure, Autumn 1999, PP. 64-85.

7. The commission was headed by Theodore Orr, a sitting justice on the Supreme Court, who was appointed by the Court President.

8. His office works well with the civil servants in the different ministries, all drawn from the old elite – and it can count on the eager cooperation of the politicized police (topic for another article).

9. Uri Elitzur, a former director-general of Prime Minister's office, charged in the November 12 Yediot Acharonot that Neeman was deliberately framed by then-Attorney-General Michael Ben-Yair. According to Elitzur, Ben-Yair called a meeting of top prosecutors shortly after Neeman's appointment and told them, "When a dog is brought into the house, it leaves scratches on the furniture, but I will ensure that the scratches not be too deep." The "dog" in question, according to Elitzur, was understood by those present to be Neeman. And in case, anyone doubted whom he meant, Ben-Yair proceeded to read a satiric article about religious Jews and their customs. Neeman is observant.


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