Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Democracy, Power, War, Peace, Law etc. etc.

I've been offline most of the day, and have time right now only for a quick roundup.

Meny Mazuz, Israel's Attorney General, has decided not to prosecute Israeli filmmaker Muhammed Bakri for his slanderous film "Jenin Jenin". The film contains outright lies about the actions of IDF troops during the battle of Jenin in 2002, when the whole world was convinced Israel had massacred large numbers of Palestinian civilians, until it turned out they weren't dead. A group of troops, mostly reservists, has been trying ever since to have Bakri punished for the lies he disseminated in his film.

The story is not unsimilar to the one I mentioned yesterday, where some creep in the UK wishes to defame dead soldiers as part of a political stunt. Except that in the British case, the national consensus from the Prime Minster down is that the defamation cannot be allowed; in Israel meanwhile, where 13 IDF troops died in Jenin precisely because Israel refused to fight the way her detractors accused her of fighting, the government isn't willing to block the defamer's right of free speech. The most the Attorney General is willing to do is support the reservists if they take their case to a civil court - a support which has no legal standing and hardly any moral significance. In essence what Mazuz is saying to the soldiers is "I agree with you but freedom of speech is more important, no matter how infuriating the lies it enables."

He's right, of course. Yet another case where Israeli democracy is at least as robust as that of our detractors.

In another corner of the internal Israeli discussion about legality at war (not to be mistaken for morality at war, of course), the previous head of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, insists Israel must fight its wars within the strictures of international law - nor does he think this should be particularly hard to do. As a matter of fact, he advocates Israel's joining the International Criminal Court. (The Chinese, Russians and Americans haven't, among others. Powerful nations don't, it seems). I don't know about joining the ICC, but General Ashkenazi, the top general of the army is moving towards an ever-greater integration of legal advisers into the units of the IDF.

Will such a measure help Israel in the future? Well, yes and no. On the purely legal level, yes: the more robust Israel's legal system is, the less case there is for action against it in the international legal venues (that's why Barak is sanguine: he sees the legal implications). On the level of international discourse, of course such a measure won't help. Israel isn't castigated for what it does; it's castigated for what it is. Shimon Stein explains how Europeans and Israelis live in different universes; the only way this can be resolved is for Israel to have European-style peace with its neighbors.

Most Israelis would love to have European-style peace with their neighbors. Who wouldn't? Well, the neighbors aren't interested, for starters. Aluf Benn, a lefty but well informed columnist at Haaretz, knows fully well that peace can't be had anytime soon; he agrees on this point with our outspoken foreign minster Avigdor Lieberman. Where he disagrees, however, is the implications. Benn thinks we need to do our best and always seek peace, and take care not to poke external observers in the eye all the time.

If peace can't be had, and the Europeans won't see things our way in any case, how bad is the situation? Perhaps not so bad. The British Attorney General, whose name - Baroness Scotland - is far more imposing than Meni Mazuz, explained yesterday in a public lecture in Jerusalem that
"The government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed to avoid this situation arising again," Scotland said. "Israel's leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK."
Here's a suggestion: arrest warrants might be decided upon by the public prosecution (i.e. the Attorney General's office), not by some judge in some obscure English town. That can't be construed as anti-democratic, I'd think.

Yet why is it so important for the British that Israeli officials be able to travel to London? There are all sorts of reasons, but they boil down to power and the wielding of it. The Europeans can protest otherwise as much as they will, the fact is that the world is, always has been, and will always continue to be run by people who wage situations and make decisions about them with the understanding that these decisions will inevitably have implications. The ability to make that kind of decision is called power; and the wielders of it bear the responsibility of using it to further the interests of a constituency. That's one of the differences between them and, say, university professors, activists, and bloggers. What does Baroness Scotland know that we don't?
Scotland's assurance comes as the Guardian learned that the Israeli military had cancelled a visit by a team of its officers to Britain after fears they risked arrest on possible war crimes charges.
What sort of implications might result by not having Israeli officials ever come to the UK? Well, here's a possible one. Apparently the Israelis are about to activate a new security system for airports; one even better, cheaper, and more efficient than the one they've already got, which is already the world's best. You need to read the item behind that link with care, however: the new system will not replace the human intervention which is the hallmark of the present system; it will merely pare off Israeli citizens (Jews and Arabs equally, of course), who clearly don't need to be interviewed; this will leave more time to focus on all the others.

Unfortunately, Israel is very good at such things as combating terrorists and protecting civilians. Or rather, it's not unfortunate at all; it's the need for the expertize that's unfortunate - but lately, the British have the same need. As do the Germans, French, Spaniards, and the American's have an urgent need for it. If you bore responsibility and power, would you want to be in a situation where you couldn't talk to some of the world's top experts, out of some sort of spite or other childish sentiment? No? Baroness Scotland neither, apparently.

Nor will you allow a boycott of those experts to go too far, either.

The Jews had millennia of powerlessness, and were not loved for it nor was it an especially pleasant exercise. Now they've got power, and they're intensely disliked for it by some. Given the alternative, it's better to have the power.


Anonymous said...

The Jews had millennia of powerlessness, and were not loved for it nor was it an especially pleasant exercise. Now they've got power, and they're intensely disliked for it by some. Given the alternative, it's better to have the power.

As we say in Hebrew: Sof Pasook!


Anonymous said...

my advice:
stay away from international outfits - sooner or later power there will be grabbed by states punching above their weight by building blocks and other such strategies.

ilona@israel said...

the difference in european and israeli calture (i think israeli calture pretty close to usa with additions of religious and traditional issuies of jews)- is a reason for misunderstanding. some people seriously belive that israel want to extend its power all over the world, but in a real way israeli calture is very closed and intravert, we would never like to do such things...

Victor said...

Maybe they will boycott this?

Israeli Sanitizer Deactivates Swine Flu

NormanF said...

Manny Mazuz is a leftist. No surprise that his last decision as Attorney General reconfirms what Israelis have known for decades: there are two justice systems in Israel - one that treats subversive Arabs and Jewish radical leftists with kid gloves and another one that carts patriotic Israelis and religious Zionists off to prison.

This Is Hell said...

I submit that peace in the western liberal democratic socialist sense of the word is impossible. The word itself is meaningless. Eurocrats had to exterminate a hundred million of one another before they simply exhausted themselves. At best what Israel can achieve is a low enough level of periodic violence that is acceptable and does not threaten to topple the government nor society in general.

Anonymous said...

So, do you think the Israeli soldiers should go to the UK to press the libel suit against Bakri? (Irony intended)

Victor said...

Yaacov, take a look at this.

She is being considered to <a href="replace Shalev at the UN</a>. Gavin and I were just discussing Israel's poor UN representation recently.

What do you think about her?

Victor said...

Here's the jpost article about replacing Shalev.

Barry Meislin said...

I think Mazuz understands very clearly that no one, especially him, is in any position to object to Bakri's (et al.) divinely ordained right to lie.

Especially when it comes to blackening Israel's name.

(Cos' everybody's doin' it, doin', it, doin' it.... and it has become THE TRUTH.)

Anonymous said...

Einat Wilf seems headed for the Knesset
I gather that Barak will be happy to have her.


Victor said...

I really have problems understanding the left in Israel. If you watch that video I posted of Wilf... she sees the situation the exact same way that the Israeli right does. She acknowledges that the Arabs don't want peace, and that the Israeli public now understands this.

Her response to this, and the response of the Israeli establishment - left and right - is to continue making concessions to achieve a peace they won't receive.

Yaacov speaks of it the same way. He knows the Arabs will never give an End of Conflict so long as there is a process (legitimized by Israel!) that funds and arms them. Why should they? They have everything to gain by saying "no".

His response, however, is to keep making concessions, while arming and supplying them. He knows these weapons will be turned around on Jews sooner or later, as they always have been. He knows that more Jews will have to die to return the next disaster - created by the "peace process" - to the status quo.

Why? Why keep doing this?

I'm not giving the Israeli right a pass here. They haven't articulated ANY political solution. Moshe Feiglin is supposed to be some right wing hawk, but he simply refuses to address the question of what to do with the Arabs.

At least the left is honest. They want to withdraw and know that Jews will pay for it with more war and more blood. The right is dishonest. They want to annex but have no solution what to do with the Arabs. It's almost like no one on the right is even thinking about this issue. Why not?!