Murder for the Honor of the State

In Israel, as in the Arab states, not only is the state the leader, but public opinion is aroused only in two cases: Economic decrees or national insult.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has returned to his country following back surgery in Germany. Yes, this was just an operation that fixed the president's slipped disc, which apparently occurred as he was getting out of his car during a visit to Moscow. This is the substance of the medical bulletin. True, a few months ago Mubarak suffered from a sudden drop in his blood pressure, which forced him to stop in the middle of a speech he was making at the Egyptian parliament, but within 45 minutes he was back at the podium. Sick leaders in this part of the world are not only a common phenomenon (the late Syrian president Hafez Assad, Saudi King Fahd, the late King Hussein of Jordan, some of the leaders of the Gulf states) but mainly a cause for worry.

There has not been a military putsch in the Middle East for the past 30 years - apart from the American putsch that brought down Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, changes of government after the death of leaders has been peaceful, and a profound sense of stability has developed: The state is the leader and there is no need to bother with the whole business of public opinion, media, political directions and subversive movements. The leader will take care of everything. Thus in Saudi Arabia the successor to King Fahd has already been chosen, so the leader's ill health is not a matter of concern to the public; the successor to Mubarak, however, is not apparent - and hence the alarm over his illness.

Israel is a member of the same club. During the past decade it has adopted this model of the leader-state that prevails in the Arab states. The attribution of the entire policy of the government of Israel and the state of Israel to what Sharon says is almost exactly identical to the way people relate to Arab leaders. It was also thus during Benjamin Netanyahu's time as prime minister, and prime minister Ehud Barak was also perceived in this way. As in most of the Arab states, the Israeli parliament has no real significance and the Israeli opposition could easily hook up with the Wafd opposition party in Egypt or the virtual opposition organizations in Syria. When the invitation comes, all of them are very glad to join the leader's government.

Those who understand this structure best of all are always the radical organizations. Their members have come to the conclusion that in the Middle East it is enough to assassinate the leader in order to change the image of the state or at least the principles of its policy. Din rodef and din moser - respectively, rabinically sanctioned license to kill someone who intends to kill someone else and someone who informs on a Jew who intends to turn another Jew over to non-Jewish authorities - are no different in essence from the principle of heresy applied by radical Muslims to leaders who are suspected of deviating from the straight religious or political path. On both sides the radical sages of religious law ostensibly refrain from taking up the reins of government, but cling with all their might to the authority given to them by God to direct the regime and "advise" it how to act. A ruler who does not heed their advice is condemned to death.

In Israel, such a procedure will soon seem perfectly natural: A policy with which the radical groups do not agree demands the physical elimination of those who shape it. It is doubtful that the second Israeli prime minister who is assassinated will even be given a national day of mourning. The first time is a drama; the second is routine.

Has a public debate arisen around the expected assassination attempt on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon? Has the Knesset convened for an urgent discussion? Has anyone brought the masses out to demonstrate? Hardly a word was heard from the direction of the heads of the Yesha (acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which also means "salvation" in Hebrew) Council when they hastened to shrug off the stain of proximity to the "rampant weeds" that grew in their backyard. Heaven forbid: The radicals do not represent all the Jewish settlers in the territories - only a handful.

This is because in Israel, as in the Arab states, not only is the state the leader, but public opinion is aroused only in two cases: Economic decrees or national insult. As compared to economic decrees, the meaning of which is possible to measure, the definition of national insult and its kin, national honor, are nearly always in the hands of extremists. Murder for the honor of the nation, as far as this goes, is not different from murder for the honor of the family. It's a matter of cultural differences - nothing more.