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Translation of an article to be published
in Ma'ariv on July 17, 2000

A Ship of Fools:
The Suicide of the Knesset

by Uri Avnery / 15.o7.oo

Experts on wildlife report the odd behavior of the lemmings, who commit collective suicide. When on the march, they do not stop at the edge of the sea but march straight on into the water and drown. Lately, many members of the Knesset behave similarly.

A new political system is coming to life in Israel: a "plebiscital presidency" like the one created by de Gaulle in France of the late 50s. The president decides and executes. The ministers are his personal assistants. His decisions are approved by popular referendum. Parliament becomes a nuisance.

In France this happened because everybody was fed up with a parliament that was obviously incapable of satisfying the general demand for an end to the war in Algeria. Power was transferred to a general who despised politicians. He instituted a system of government by plebiscite. Parliament became unimportant.

Ehud Barak has not yet proven that he has the stature of a de Gaulle. After all, the French general had with one stroke put an end to the occupation, liberated Algerian up to the last millimeter and sent home a million French settlers, whose families had lived in Algeria for a hundred years. Has Barak that kind of courage?

But as far as domestic politics are concerned, Barak's situation resembles de Gaulle's. It's not his fault, really. One can criticize his arrogance, insensitivity to others and faulty human relations. But that's a secondary problem. The main fault lies with the Knesset itself: It is simply not capable of governing at a critical time. Its irresponsibility has reached criminal proportions.

The Knesset has become a ship of fools.

If a future historian will trouble himself to look at the TV cassette of the Knesset session on the day of Barak's departure for Camp David, he will not believe his eyes and ears. At one of the defining moments in the history of Israel, when the Prime Minister was going abroad to try to put an end to the 120-years long conflict, the Knesset resembled a nest of wasps.

Most members and their factions were motivated by personal and party interests that shrink into insignificance compared to the historic decision on the agenda: peace or war for generations. In other words: They considered this decision unimportant, not to say negligible, compared to personal insults, electoral calculations or personal idiosyncracies.

Let's starts with a person who was not there: Ovadia Josef. For years we were told that he is a towering spiritual guide. A dozen years ago, Arie Der'I told me that the rabbi (like himself) was an extreme dove who understands the Arab world and is capable to make peace. And indeed, the rabbi issued a religious judgement stating that the halakha (Jewish religious law) demands the giving up of territory in order to prevent killing. And now the rabbi reappears as the mainstay of the extreme right, the primary obstacle to peace.

Why? Has the halakha changed? Or is the rabbi "great in the Torah" but very small as a politician? Perhaps, instead of leading, he is being led? Perhaps he is not really interested in pikuach nefesh (the saving of lives), but rather in the saving of his party, in the face of the danger that his voters will return to the Likud?

As for Der'I, what a disappointment! At the crucial moment he is unable to transcend his personal troubles with the law. He is ready to sacrifice the fate of the state on the altar of his personal revenge, while rolling his eyes to high heaven.

His successor, Eli Yishai, is incomprehensible, not only because he slurs his words but also because they don't make sense.

True, Barak has made many mistake in his treatment of Shass. He was disdainful, overbearing and remote. But faced with such a historic decision, should this have mattered?

Because of Shass, the Prime Minister had to embark on his journey to the summit after a majority vote in the Knesset against him, a truly shameful situation. And, how strange, the blame for that falls jointly on rabbi Ovadia Josef and orthodox-baiter Tommy Lapid.

Lapid's pretext for abstaining is his demand for the draft of religious youngsters. In other words, the service of the Yeshiva-students in the next war is more important to him than the prevention of the war itself. Those who maintain that Lapid is basically a right-wing person may be right; perhaps, just like Der'i, he will sabotage peace at every moment of truth.

The behavior of Asmi Bishara, who abstained and later tried unsuccessfully to change his vote, was, to say the least, odd.

Even worse was the behavior of Itzik Mordechai, who did trouble to cast his vote at all, but neither resigned his seat. His sex-life now determines the fate of the state. This, truly, is the epitome of irresponsibility.

Still worse is the behavior of David Levy, this pompous zero, an eternally insulted nobody. He ostensibly voted for Barak, and on the morrow stuck a knife in his back. He resembles the knight on the chessboard, hopping around all over the place, looking for a safe place on somebody's election list. An inflated ego hovering above everything, above peace, above war, above graveyards.

But all these are nothing compared to Sharansky, the real enigma of the Knesset and the whole state.

Anatoliy Schcharansky, the international hero, the indomitable fighter for human rights, the man who dared to pit himself alone against the huge terror-machine of the KGB. On the morrow of his arriving in Israel we saw a completely different person. Anatoliy became Nathan, and it looked as if he had changed his personality together with his name. The giant has turned into a dwarf, an ordinary party-hack, indifferent to human rights, a chauvinist vis-a-vis the Palestinians, a racist at the head of the interior ministry. As if he had put on the clothes of his Soviet tormentors.

There may be a solution of the riddle: In the Gulag, the original Anatoliy Shcharansky was murdered and, in order to cover the crime, the Soviets have taken some fellow from the market who resembles him physically and sent him to Israel. This is now our Sharansky. The caricature of a fighter.

Some believe that his shameful behavior stems from the fear that his voters will desert him for the crowd of Avigdor Liberman, an undisguised ultra-rightist. If so, this is another case of a leader running after his followers instead of leading them.

More than enough has been said about the bottomless Chutzpah of the four Ashkenazi orthodox members, who demand to free their followers from military service but do not vote for peace. They are ready to send us to the inevitable war.

All these characters took part in the absurd play in the Knesset. The harm done is irreversible. The respect of the public for the Knesst, which was nearing zero even before, has fallen into a abyss.

If the peace negotiations with the Palestinians explode, the ship of fools can sail on, because in the following bloodshed nobody will remember them. But if Barak will return from the summit with an agreement, the fate of parliamentary democracy will be bound up with the fate of peace. If the Knesset will interpose itself between the people and peace, it will commit suicide. The public will demand to change the system from the bottom up.

Remember de Gaulle.

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Gush Shalom


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