Last Thursday Meir Sheetrit had a new brainstorm: He supported Shas's pathetic idea to suspend daylight saving time for two days to make it easier for those who fast on Yom Kippur. As usual, Sheetrit wasted no time before running to announce his decision. He did the same two months ago when he rushed to the cameras to congratulate himself for his resourcefulness in capturing the fugitive Trade Bank suspect Ofer Maximov.
Sheetrit tends to put his mouth in motion before he puts his mind in gear. He gets involved in moves and takes stances unfit for any level-headed person, let alone a justice minister. Just as he was wrong when he thought he saw Maximov on the plane with him, he was also wrong when he signed the government announcement disqualifying clergyman Eirinaios as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. And just as he rescinded his signature in that fiasco, he also changed his original vote on the bill to exclude Israeli Arabs from buying land in community settlements where Jews live.
As justice minister, Sheetrit is expected to uphold the constitutionality of government decisions, as Haim Tzadok and Dan Meridor did before him. But Sheetrit proves time and again that he is one of those politicians who have no reverence for the Justice Ministry. He does not affiliate himself with a select group of officials such as the president of the Supreme Court, the attorney general and the chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, who safeguard the implementation of the principles of equality and democracy. To Sheetrit, this is a job just like any other in government, and it has only one aim: to guarantee his political survival.
In the discussions of the ministerial committee on legislation, Sheetrit voted twice in favor of the bill discriminating against Israelis of Arab descent; nothing in his ethical makeup stopped him from doing so. He partially retracted, and instead of supporting the bill he abstained last week at the cabinet meeting - but only because he did not want his position to be diametrically opposed to that of Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, who implored the ministers not to approve this bill. Thus, it was not his conscience or ideology that led him not to support this bill; it was appearances.
Sheetrit said nothing against this racist bill simply because he feared the Likud's central committee, which selects the party's slate. He wants to be on the list for the next Knesset, and he knows how the committee works: The dignity and rights of Israeli Arabs are nothing to them. This is the same committee that did not hesitate to humiliate its leader, Ariel Sharon, who is working political wonders for his party. They voted against him simply because he indirectly implied he may be willing to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The committee's world view is simplistic, nationalistic and intolerant of universal values. It sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in black and white, and is only appeased by radical resolutions. This is why the Likud ministers were pushing to deny government allowances to children in Arab families (and only changed their mind because they feared the wrath of the High Court); this is why Gideon Ezra has called on the Shin Bet to take action against journalists who don't conform to his definition of patriotism; this is why Limor Livnat wanted to sanction university professors who expressed support for soldiers who refused to serve in the territories; this is why Likud MKs supported the indictment of MK Azmi Bishara and restricted the prerogatives that Ahmed Tibi had as a member of Knesset.
The terror attacks during this government's term in office have completely changed the atmosphere: Positions and measures that only two years ago were considered deplorable for any country that purports to be part of the family of civilized nations, have become commonplace. One of the main reasons for this is the desire to satisfy the expectations of the Likud Central Committee.
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