One Grandmother Is Not Enough

The promises made by Shinui on the eve of the last elections about how it would not join a narrow, right-wing government turned out to be untrue; so, too, was a pledge made by Shinui to function as a moderating element of restraint in the Sharon-led government a fiction.

One day, when Ariel Sharon's government is scrutinized by historians, the issue of how its component parts operated will be examined. All told, this is a government that is responsible for the destruction of the prospects for peace, and for the implementation of inhumane policies in the occupied areas. The Likud's main coalition partner in the government cannot exempt itself of blame for these results, no matter that it is trying right now to do precisely that.

Shinui, a party which adopted as its platform principles of public policy integrity - "for a change ["shinui" in Hebrew], here's a clean party" was its campaign slogan - is now bogged down as a senior coalition party in a march of folly, one of the worst such marches ever sponsored by the state. It is a member of a government that carried out what the latest Amnesty International report characterized as war crimes. In the next election campaign, Shinui will have no right to talk about public integrity, for in Israel no corruption is more devastating than the corruption of conquest, and Shinui has turned into a cog in the occupation apparatus, during one of the cruelest periods of the conquest. Nor can Shinui now pretend to be a centrist party: as a senior member of the most extreme, right-wing coalition in Israel's history, it operated as a right-wing party.

Shinui's promises on election eve about how it would not join a narrow, right-wing government turned out to be untrue; so, too, was Shinui's pledge to function as a moderating element of restraint in the government a fiction.

Shinui chairman Yosef Lapid's recent remarks about the Palestinian woman who reminds him of his grandmother, and his charge that the IDF chief of staff lied to the government about the scope of home demolition in Rafah, were attempts to repair some of the damage caused by the party's presence in the government. The comments stirred much public comment, and they are important. When Lapid spoke about his grandmother, he managed to touch some nerves that haven't been active in these parts for some time.

Yet Lapid's grandma tales - no matter how candid and dramatic they might be - cannot exempt him in the slightest from his major responsibility for the plight of the elderly Palestinian woman. After all, the government in which he serves as a senior cabinet minister, directly and knowingly, caused the demolition of her home. The Israel Defense Forces raided Rafah with the approval of Lapid's government; while citing the express objective of widening the Philadelphi route, the army demolished the homes of innocent civilians, including the residence of this old woman, who could be seen scavenging through the rubble, looking for her medicine.

Lapid the child did not bear any responsibility for the plight of his own grandmother; in contrast, he shares responsibility for the plight of the elderly Palestinian woman. What would he say about a senior minister in a government responsible for such horrible abuse to his own grandmother? That such a minister should look to the heavens, and express condolences? That he should say the woman's plight reminds him of his own grandmother? What would he think of this minister if he continued to serve in a government that abuses the elderly?

Expressions of sorrow and lament for the bitter fate of the woman are no substitutes for the concrete steps that Lapid and his colleagues must take. Shinui could have prevented the wrongful IDF operation in Rafah. Due to its passive compliance, it must share the blame.

As a party that has 15 MKs and five ministers, Shinui is Likud's largest coalition partner. The ultra-Orthodox parties (the arch enemies of Lapid and his Shinui colleagues) have shrewdly manipulated the government. The settlers number little more than half the number of Shinui voters; and yet the settlers have dictated policies to the state for close to 40 years. Shinui had an opportunity to serve as a pressure group committed to a different reality - it might have dedicated itself to restraint, to the renewal of the peace process, and to the avoidance of atrocities. Instead, Israel assassinates and destroys, with or without Shinui in the government.

When Lapid declares that "soon they'll start putting Israelis on trial at The Hague," what exactly does he mean? What did he do, as justice minister, to prevent the escalation?

Close to 390,000 voters cast ballots for Shinui. It can be assumed that many of them did not intend to vote for a government that knows only how to use force, demolish homes and kill innocent civilians. What do Shinui voters think about when they see the scenes from Rafah? That their party does not share the blame?

What did Shinui's National Infrastructure Minister Joseph Paritzky think when he heard the prime minister of pro-Israel Turkey say that Israel carries out policies of terror? That he plays no part in Israel's moral decline?

And what passed through the mind of Interior Minister Avraham Poraz - a long-time advocate of human rights - when he read Amnesty International's report, which defines Israel's acts as war crimes? That the report is mendacious? That only Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz are to blame, and that he is immune to criticism?

When masses of Israelis went two weeks ago to Rabin Square, to take part in a demonstration, the two Shinui MKs who turned up were attacked by their party colleagues - one even called the two hapless members of the liberal, enlightened political party "traitors." When the time comes for demonstrators at peace rallies to cast ballots in national elections, they would do well to remember where Shinui was during all that has happened.