“Isn’t the Talmud about the art of listening? The main principle is ‘come and listen.’ Listening means always understanding the views of others,” Wiesel said. “To study Talmud is to study values and principles, to study the art of studying. Studying implies memory and respect for the other, what to say to others, especially those who disagree.”
A heated debate has taken place in the last few decades on the definition of what is a true democracy. While democracy has traditionally been seen solely as the implementation of majority rule, a new definition has risen among academics who were unhappy of the results of democratic decisions.
“A democracy of the majority alone that is not accompanied by a democracy of values is but a formal, statistical democracy. True democracy limits the power of the majority in order to protect society‘s values.” (Chief Justice Aharon Barak in the famed Bank Mizrahi case)
With these few sentences, Justice Barak redefined Israeli democracy from that of majority rule to that of a society ruled by “proper values”. Of course, what Justice Barak failed to clarify who would be responsible for deciding what values deserve protection. A deeper look at Barak’s philosophy gives us a clear answer: the decisions are made by a small group of homogenous academics sitting in a body called the High Court of Justice. This small group of intellectuals have more legitimacy, according to Barak, than the majority of Israelis to decide what values are proper for the State of Israel.
The elitist coterie of Supreme Court judges is but one example of how unrepresentative the State of Israel’s main institutions have become. It is well known in Israel that the media is highly tilted to the left. Haaretz, for example, is considered the most influential newspaper in Israel (Rebecca L. Torstrick. Culture and Customs of Israel). Yet, Haaretz has been accused of clear bias for the opinions of its small elite of journalists and editors, with few dissenting voices ever appearing on its pages. Its readership is far from representative of the Israeli public, as most are wealthy Ashkenazim. Israeli author Irit Linur has even canceled her subscription, accusing Haaretz of an anti-Zionism that turns too often to “foolish” journalism. While Haaretz is an extreme example of the media’s bias, its influence is unmatched by any other newspaper and is the most read newspaper by decision-makers. Therefore, in Israel, a small elite is writing the newspaper that is influencing decision makers.
In the last year, much has been said about the high level of bias in Israeli universities. Reports by Im Tirtzu and the Institute of Zionist Strategies have shown that Israeli universities and professors tend to skew towards post-Zionist and anti-Zionist views. While much noise has been made about Im Tritzu’s alleged McCarthyism, no one in the academia bothered denying the accusations made by the organization. Once again, we see that an essential and influential institution in Israel is being run by a small, elitist minority.
Finally, in Israel, many organizations calling themselves human rights organizations, funded by European countries, have put all their energies in the de-legitimization of Israel. Instead of protecting the legitimate human rights of Israelis, Palestinians and all other human beings, those organizations have constantly attacked the State of Israel, fought against its right to defend itself, and often even questioned the very legitimacy of the existence of the Jewish State.
When the courts (and the very definition of democracy), the media, human rights organizations and the academia is all run by a small minority that does not represent the majority opinion, it is only natural that the majority stands up and demands to re-take control over these institutions.
This year was transformative for Israeli democracy.
This year, the nation of Israel rejected Justice Barak’s vision of democracy and decided to take its fate back in its hands. Through campaigns by organizations like Im Tirtzu, NGO Monitor and various other organizations, Israelis rejected the values of the minority elites who’ve never represented them and demanded that the power centers of Israeli society be returned to the Nation.
Unbiased news started appearing both through online technologies and blogs, as well as the growth of more representatives competing newspapers. Human rights organizations were put to task and a law was passed which will require those organizations to provide full transparency. The academia has been served a serious message when, for the first time ever, individuals started requesting that the bias be stopped and that all opinions be given equal treatment in academic discourses. Democracy has moved once again: It has left the hands of the small and unrepresentative elites and is slowly returning to the nation.
Of course, this change has created a lot of opposition. Every time transparency was required from these small elite, they argued that this request for transparency is undemocratic. Instead of admitting that this is a fight between the right of the nation to decide its own fate, and a small elite that does not want to lose its power.
Surprisingly, and to their credit, Tamar Hermann and David Newman (“Israel’s democratic veneer”) properly diagnosed the cause for the current struggle in Israel. They properly defined this struggle as a struggle between the sectors which have been left out of the decision making process and the small elite which has decided for them. However, instead of welcoming the fact that those sectors are finally speaking up, they are worried of the consequences of such a trend. Yes, they, like Justice Barak, do not trust the majority.
They describe their fears from the rule of a majority which is formed of, amongst other people, the Hareidim, Mizrachi Jews, Religious Zionists, and Russian immigrants. As a proud Mizrachi (Moroccan) Religious Zionist Jew, who also respects the human rights of Russian immigrants and Hareidim, I am not only insulted at the insinuation that our right to speak challenges the democratic ethos of the State of Israel, but I am also worried that unless we give these groups the right to express themselves and to be part of the decision making process, Israel will stop being a true representative democracy with majority rule.
My answer to Hermann and Newman is simple: Do not be afraid of true democracy. Yes, the elites will change, but Hareidim, Mirazchi Jews, Religious Zionists and Russian immigrants are also allowed to have a say as to the nature of the State of Israel. If we truly seek to have a democracy that reflects all of our views, we must help them get their voice heard and help the State of Israel decide its fate through democratic means, through elections which allow for majority rule, and not through the forced rule of self-appointed elites.
Dan Illouz is the former Overseas Communications Coordinator for Im Tirtzu. He currently blogs at http://www.danillouz.com
Originally posted at http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/PrintArticle.aspx?id=185731
Academic freedom is an essential component of the mission of the academy. Scholars should be able to hold political positions without fearing repression. This is precisely the principle that guided Im Tirtzu’s recent efforts to fight the silencing of Zionist opinions in Israeli academia. Unfortunately, these efforts were met with misinformation, McCarthyism and outright lies. As is often the case when Zionism is attacked, the victims have been portrayed as aggressors while the aggressors were portrayed as victims.
Several months ago, at the request of the Knesset Education Committee, Im Tirtzu published a report revealing frightening information about academia. The report recorded testimonies from students who complained about a strong anti-Zionist bias in universities. Those students also testified about instances in which professors used intimidation and threats to silence Zionist views. Im Tirtzu demanded action be taken to defend the freedom of speech of Zionist students.
Much can be learned about a society’s historical events and cultural activities by examining the community’s music. This is particularly evident to scholars who study the emergence of Zionism in the 19thcentury and its development through the early years of the 20th century. Early Zionist “halutzim” — pioneers — expressed their beliefs, hopes, trials and tribulations through their poems and songs. Today we can learn about the lives of these individuals through the musical legacy that they created.
The musical legacy of early the early Zionist era is explored by The Israel Suite, a Lowell Milken Archives project which is aimed at examining the lives of the halutzim who came to settle the Land of Israel between the years 1880 – 1936. “Israel Suite” uses the words and tunes of the compositions of members of the early settlers of the First, Second and Third Aliyahs to explore the idealism, optimism and determination of Zionist pioneers who believed that they were creating a new society and a New Jew.
During the era which encompassed the 1880-1936 Jewish immigration to Palestine Jewish music frequently incorporated the socialist viewpoints of the new settlers. The Milken Archives founded by Jewish philanthropist Lowell Milken offers an overview of the Hebrew songs which expressed the new secular identities and values of late 19th and early 20th century Aliya immigrants (1880s through WWI). In addition, the project documents the love and commitment that later settlers expressed regarding their goals of building the Land of Israel. The music incorporates Mediterranean, North African, Hassidic and Eastern European influences as well as the compositions of the pre-State “Yishuv’s” best-known poets and professional musicians.
The music that the Israel Suite project studies and archives includes romantic views of collective life such as “Laila Had’mama,” compositions by well-known poets such as Haim Nachman Bialik’s “B’yom Kayitz” and Yiddish songs which the settlers adapted to express their own socialist world views.
Im Tirtzu recently published a detailed report revealing the troubling academic reality in Israel today. According to the report, students in all of the major universities in Israel have complained of a heavily political academia where opinions which do not follow the post-Zionist or anti-Zionist narrative are often rejected and sometimes even penalized.
After the publication of the report, published at the request of the Knesset’s Education Committee, those academic bodies who were investigated responded with ad hominem attacks and claims which fly in face of the reality on university campuses in Israel. Haifa University said that “Im Tirtzu is an organization which uses McCarthyism to threaten freedom of speech.” The spokesperson of Hebrew University told reporters that: “Hebrew University maintains full freedom of expression.” These accusations were also the subject of an opinion piece recently published in the Jerusalem Report.
Im Tirtzu has never demanded that only its opinions are allowed to be expressed. Rather, we, at Im Tirtzu, demand that all opinions be accepted in the academic discourse. We oppose thought policing of any kind. Our complaints are not about the exposure of students to post-Zionist scholarship, but rather on the lack of exposure to the Zionist opinions. A truly free academic environment should be a marketplace of opinions.
Here are some examples of events which Im Tirtzu is trying to combat:
Rachel Avraham, a student at Ben Gurion University, published two critical academic exposes on the content of a lecture given by Ben Gurion University’s Dr. Oren Yiftachel, entitled “Selected Topics in the Geography of the Middle East”. After publishing these exposes, Rachel Avraham was summoned by the head of the Geography department, Prof. Avi Rubin, “to discuss the possible ramifications” of her “defamatory” exposes. An email communication between the two was then started. Rachel Avraham felt threatened by the tone and nature of these emails. Fearing she would be discriminated against for having disagreed with her professor, she hired a lawyer to deal with further communications with the university. Defending Rachel Avraham’s right to disagree with her professor is not an affront to Dr. Oren Tiftachel’s right to free speech. It is not McCarthyism. It is nothing other than the defence of free speech.
In November 2009, Professor Nira Hativa, who was responsible for the computerized feedback provided by students to their professors, wrote that “there are a lot of students that complain and report that they feel significantly hurt by the presentation of facts from a perspective which is contrary to their views but that they are worried to express opposing views because they feel such an expression might reflect badly on their marks or other things which professors have control over.” Professor Hativa continued and wrote: “I was exposed to many complaints from students of professors who express extreme leftist positions in their lectures and attack the State of Israel, the Israel Defence Forces, the Zionist movement and other, even worse, things”.
A PhD student at Hebrew University testified that he was once told that “anything “right of Meretz” was best not spoken aloud or it would have a serious detrimental impact on my career in Israeli academia”.
By now, one can clearly see that Zionist students have many reasons to fear publicly stating their opinions. Our full report contains countless other examples. On the other hand, there are also a lot of incentives for students to continue their research toeing the line to the post-Zionist narrative. For example:
Ms. Tal Nitzan received a distinction from the Israeli Council for Sociology for her paper that claimed that IDF soldiers do not rape Palestinian women because they are racist.
Furthermore, some courses require their students go on field activities with extreme leftist organizations such as Machsom Watch and Yesh Din, two organizations which spend much of their time attacking and criticizing the IDF. Some courses even offered students to get paid to work for these organizations in addition to the credits they would received for the course.
A truly free academic environment is one in which all students feel free to express their ideas and where students are exposed a multiplicity of ideas. Unfortunately, many in the academic world feel that freedom of speech simply means that they are allowed to do whatever they want in their classroom, including intimidating students who disagree with them.
We at Im Tirtzu want to restore true academic freedom in Israel – an academic freedom in which all students will be able to express themselves, including Zionist students. It is painful to see that even in the State of Israel, Zionist students are victims of discrimination.
Im Tirtzu will not allow the stifling of academic freedom to become a reality in Israel. We believe that we can transform the dream that is the State of Israel into a more just, more modern, more democratic and more Jewish place. This latest report is just one step forward on that path.
Dan Illouz is the Overseas Communications Coordinator of Im Tirtzu. He blogs at http://www.danillouz.com
In: Israeli Politics14 Jul 2010
Over the last few weeks, something very wrong has happened. The incredible show of unity between all Israelis who want to see Gilad Shalit brought back home safely has become misguided and their actions have become misplaced. Instead of protesting against our enemies and pressuring Hamas to let Gilad go free, Israelis started protesting their own government asking it to make ridiculous concessions for the freedom of the captured soldier.
Let me make one thing clear from the get-go: We all want to see Gilad brought back home safely. Anyone who claims otherwise is being dishonest. My disagreement on this issue is not as to our goal, but rather as to the correct strategy to get to that goal. Our goal is one: Bring Gilad Shalit back home! However, many people are using methods which, instead of helping bring Gilad home, are strengthening Hamas’ ridiculous demands.
There is something else I wish to make clear: My argument is not against Noam and Aviva Shalit, the parents of Gilad. If, chas veshalom, I was ever put in a remotely similar situation, I would also probably try every possible solution to save my child. However, while their emotional reaction might be justified, the reaction of the thousands of people who join them in pressuring the government into ridiculous concessions is irrational and dangerous. My argument is with those people.
In the next few paragraphs, I want to go through a thorough analysis of the various reasons why I believe we Israelis need to stop pressuring our government into ridiculous concessions for Gilad’s freedom and rather start pressuring Hamas and the international community to free the illegally captured soldier. Read the rest of this entry »
On June 24th, we will hold a LARGE online chat to discuss the next steps in building a community of online Israel advocates who will defend Israel from baseless attacks like the ones which followed the flotilla incident. LET’S NOT FORGET WHAT HAPPENED – LET’S BUILD UP FROM THIS CRISES AND ENSURE WE ARE READY TO DEFEND ISRAEL NEXT TIME!
Which time is best for you to join in this chat? (Select up to 3 times which you can attend)
I realize that June 24th might seem late for some of you, but I want to get everything ready, and I also want you to prepare yourselves by brainstorming ideas. I’d rather come well-prepared and have a serious chat that will have a serious lasting impact than do something unprepared that will be useless.
If you know of important personalities who might be interested in addressing the chat – please email firstname.lastname@example.org
A short roundup of the past week for me (I am still very busy with the flotilla story and I take too much time blogging):
On Monday March 31st, the day of the flotilla incident, I woke up and heard the news. Knowing people serving in accessory roles in the navy, I called them to get our side of the story: the government had not said anything yet. I was told, as I expected, that the news are coming to quick conclusions based on superficial looks but that Israel’s name will be cleared.
I start a facebook page for a nonprofit that would now be dedicated to disseminating the truth about this incident. http://www.facebook.com/israelflotilla
A week later, and with so much more clarity as to the violent nature of those “peace activists” and the great restraint with which the Israeli commando defended its life, the page has 70 000 fans.
Since then, I have been working with the Ministry of Public Diplomacy in order to share material through that page. I am also in the early stages of the development of a non-profit dedicated to defending Israel in the social media.
My early conclusion from this whole experience: Israel needs to upgrade its hasbara to Web 2.0. This allows us to skip the biased media and to tell the truth about our story. If you are an Israel Activist or supporter, it is your responsibility to train yourself in these things.
I ask of all my readers to post resources of relevant material which can be found online for one to learn the art of social media marketing.
Unfortunately, this story is not over. The media is still spreading lies. Also, there will be other flotillas. And if not flotillas, then Jenins. And if not Jenin, then something else which we cannot imagine.
Those of you who have not done so yet should join http://www.facebook.com/dillouzen in order to stay updated about future projects.
Please leave your comments!
Here are the soldiers of the commando that were on mission on the flotilla. Their faces are not shown because their commando engages on special secret missions. This mission was meant to be simple – instead of bringing their high level weapons, they only brought paintballs and one small pistol.
I am going to list three reasons why I feel these guys deserve to be called heroes. Please do the same in the comments section:
1. These soldiers were put in an unexpected situation and managed to get out of it. Imagine being place down somewhere where you expect to speak gently to people without any violence and then suddenly getting beat up and stabbed. This could have been a tragedy, but they survived.
2. According to the reports we have until today, only some engaged in violent behaviour against the soldiers were killed. These soldiers did not lose their cool and start shooting everything that came their way. They stayed calm, responded quickly and precisely, killing only those who were a danger to them. Right after the incident, they started providing first aid to the very people who tried attacking them before.
3. After it all, when interviewed by the media, the soldiers did not seek any limelight or credit. Their answer was always: “We only did our job”. This is the modesty of heros.
What are your three reasons? (Feel free to repeat/expand some of mine)
One of the seminars I give to groups is called “You Be Prime Minister!” (click here for more information on my seminars). The idea behind the seminars is very simple: By putting the participant in the shoes of the prime minister, I am able to give him a taste of the complexity of the issues Israel has to deal with in a way that would be impossible to describe with words. The participant can then understand the complexity of the religious/secular divide in Israel, the complexity of the security situation, the complexity of the Sephardic minority’s needs, the complexity of the diplomatic challenges Israel has etc…
As I looked back at the unveiling of the Flotilla incident, I asked myself a question that I now want to ask you, my readers, and that I want you to ask everyone you know. I ask that question because, on the one hand, it will help us learn about Israel’s mistakes in order not to repeat them. However, I also ask it because I do believe that if we ask that question to our opponents, their answers will either be minor and meaningless, or extreme… By asking them that question, we can make the world understand that Israel had no other choice but to defend itself! Sure, some details could have been handled differently, but the basic fact of self defence was unavoidable. Therefore, the deaths are the responsibility of the attackers (the so called “activists”) and not the defenders (the Israeli soldiers).
Now, I ask you, in all honesty: What would you have done different if you were Prime Minister? Please answer on the comments section of this post!
My Answer: Israel was put in a situation where it had no choice but to defend itself and we should never ask sorry for that. Still, I would have started the public diplomacy campaign in defence of Israel’s actions right after the announcement of the deaths and not a few hours later. Our enemies had already given their lies to the media who had been running them for hours before we came out with a response. I would have also ensured better intelligence before sending the brave soldiers because it would have let me give them more appropriate weapons, and also maybe made me find a way to bring the boat to shore without going in it and then sending the border police who is experienced with rioting.
Please note that I do realize that it is much easier to criticize in hindsight and that I do not intend to criticize the way the situation was handled because I do not know all the variables of the situation.
My name is Dan Illouz. I am a lawyer and policy analyst. You can read more about me by clicking on this link. I hope to use the broad and diverse knowledge I have acquired through my education and experience in order to help shape public policy in Israel.