Sometimes It Works

At first the Winograd panel said they would publicize the testimonies, and then they changed their minds or came to the conclusion that there were indeed some reasons not to do so.

There once was a man who was deeply troubled. People asked him what the matter was. "My son doesn't know how one plays poker," he said.

"So what are you worried about?"

"He plays every night."

Having a son that plays poker was not my father's problem. I think I know how to play the game, but I don't actually utilize my skills; as far as I know, neither do my children. But I prefer not to ask, for fear that I'll be fixed with one of those stares that means: "That is none of your business." If there's one thing I've learned as a human being and a father, it's that sometimes it's better not to put parental authority to the test. One may fail, and all the king's horses and all the king's men cannot put authority together again.

I would like to elaborate on this subject by recounting three short tales. One is an old one - about Hershele from Ostropol (a small town about 220 kilometers west of Kiev), who once stormed into the dining room of an inn where he was staying, and announced: "If I don't get a dinner right now, I'll do what my father used to do." He was served a sumptuous meal, and was then asked, "What did your father used to do?" To which the response was: "He used to go to bed on an empty stomach."

As I'm already at the dinner table, I might as well stay there for the second tale. Following the coffee and digestif I was offered once at a restaurant (there were cigars offered as well, but I know that sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar, so I declined), I asked for the bill. When it arrived I went through the items, and confirmed that I had soup, a steak and affogato (delicious ice cream drowned in strong espresso). Then I saw an item called "works" - for NIS 52.

I summoned the waiter, who was hovering nearby, and asked what "works" referred to. He shrugged his shoulders, took the pen from behind his ear, struck the item out, and said: "Well, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't."

Let's not talk about the tip he got from me.

The third story happened when my children were small. (Kids: If you read this, it's not really about you, but the anecdote works better if it's told in the first person singular). One day I noticed one of my sons (there are two, so neither should take offense) aiming a shoe at his younger sister. As a trained parent I knew better than to order my offspring around - that it's preferable to issue a well-substantiated directive - but time was of the essence. "Don't throw that shoe at her!" I roared, just in time to see it miss her by an inch.

Out of the ruins of my parental authority, I inquired: "What did I tell you just now?" He picked up the other shoe and said: "You told me not to throw the shoe at her - but why?" I had an answer, albeit a rather lame one, but there were no other options. I opened a closet door on which a sticker had been pasted that said: "Because we are your parents. That's why!" And then he threw the other shoe.

Now imagine Hershele, the waiter and me sitting as the High Court of Justice, deliberating whether the Winograd Committee should release the transcripts of the testimonies heard in camera by its members. "If you don't, I'll do what my father used to do" - Hershele would say. "Go ahead, release it" - the waiter's verdict would be. And I would say: "Don't you dare not release it!"

At first the Winograd panel said they would publicize the testimonies, and then they changed their minds or came to the conclusion that there were indeed some reasons not to do so. Politicians - to say nothing of those who don't think much of the law in general - seem to think that the word of the courts (the High Court included) doesn't mean a thing, and if it does, it shouldn't have.

I don't know yet what the High Court will do with the committee's foot-dragging concerning the release of the transcripts. Hershele would have said, "My father would have said: 'So don't.'" The waiter would have said: "Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't," while shrugging. And I'd probably be kicking myself for putting (what turns out to be) my fragile authority to a test, when there is a clear and present danger that it will fail miserably.

Now we have to rebuild the authority of the High Court of Justice. If I correctly understand Minister of Justice Daniel Friedmann (and this may not be the case), he thinks that by overstepping the bounds of its jurisdiction, ostensibly without a proper legal basis, the High Court has eroded its authority by itself. He now intends to help bolster it - even if it looks like he is trying to clip the court's wings.

When you are fiddling with authority, it is a little like war (i.e., the event the Winograd Committee is investigating): You know how it starts. You never can tell how it will end. Sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn't.

There was a man who traveled for months to meet a hermit known for his great wisdom. When he finally got to him, up there in the Himalayas, he asked: "What is the meaning of life?" The hermit thought a moment, and said: "Life is a big green tree." The man exploded: "After all the time I spent getting to you, all you have to tell me is that life is a big green tree?" The hermit considered the matter for a long moment, and then answered: "You may have a point there. Maybe it isn't."

Maybe we should appoint him to the High Court of Justice.