It's Not Katsav, It's That War

A year ago people were still wondering: "Where's the state?" Today they are already saying: "There is no state."

"Self-defense" is one of those names that are adopted by groups that take the law into their own hands. This is the name that has been chosen by a group of young Russian-speakers who have not taken the law into their own hands, but rather the social and economic defense of weak groups in their community. This group first organized at the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, but its activity since then has only been expanding among those who have been harmed by the war and its results.

Although there is something taunting in the choice of the name, there is also a sad dimension: Citizens have been forced to provide defense for themselves instead of the state, or even against it.

This group of active young people is part of a far wider phenomenon. A year after the war, not only has the break between the citizens and the state not been repaired, it has even deepened. What looked in 2006 like a localized failure of a young and inexperienced government looks in July 2007 like a routine that is taken for granted.

A trip around the north of the country - and also the south - reveals a sad reality: They are preparing for the next war. Quietly, with professionalism, without panic. But above all they are doing it alone.

Every locale, every community, and every individual is preparing for their fate with a series of preparations, training courses and professional seminars in order to improve their performance next time. Between the south and the north there remains a narrow strip of the country that has its capital in Tel Aviv, which is preserving normalcy but turning its back on the state.

In this reality, even the initial anger that prevailed a year ago has vanished. What remains is chilling resignation, spiced with cynicism. Every person in psychotherapy would now say that it is time to turn to couples therapy. However, the government is so deeply sunk in the maintenance of its survival that it has no time to devote to investing in the relationship. In this context, it is worth examining the mass demonstration against the plea bargain in the matter of Moshe Katsav. No one really believes that women's rights have suddenly come to the forefront of the Israeli mind. Of the 20,000 who were at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, the majority did not come out of shock at A's testimony; they also found in this occasion a channel to express the great frustration of the protest that was cynically suppressed after the war.

The plea bargain cooked up in the Katsav affair is perceived as another deal of the sort in which the political establishment specializes. Katsav isn't the axis of evil; he is just one point on it, and not in fact the worst of all. He has caused terrible damage to a number of women, and has made one of the symbols of the state into a bad joke. But others on this axis have caused even greater damage during the past year: They have ignored poverty and distress, they have abandoned the weak, they neglected terror attacks, and they have crushed the natural sense of justice of democracy in their clinging to their chairs.

The Katsav affair has afforded the public a handy outlet for its all-embracing disgust. For the politicians, who have long disengaged from the public, the affair has provided a convenient stage from which to demonstrate a sensitivity and determination that has not been one of their characteristics during the past year. This is even working for them. Sex sells, even in politics.

Beyond the legal aspects, the plea bargain with Katsav has far-reaching social implications. The legal establishment now looks just as arbitrary and bizarre as the political establishment.

This is very bad news for Israeli democracy. According to the 2007 Democracy Index of the Israel Democracy Institute, there has been an erosion in all measured aspects of society in the year following the war: Eighty-six percent say that that the government is not dealing well with the country's problems; 70 percent feel that the politicians do not take the public's opinion into consideration; and faith in the Supreme Court, an institution that has always enjoyed undisputed prestige, has dropped by 7 percent, to 61 percent.

A year ago people were still wondering: "Where's the state?" Today they are already saying: "There is no state." The public has become an elite unit that is specializing in self-defense.