The Israeli Machine Powered by Inertia

The beauty of a democracy is that we can change the direction in which it is headed, before it really is too late.

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Asylum seekers at the Holot detention center in the Negev.
Asylum seekers at the Holot detention center in the Negev. Stands as a shameful symbol of our age. Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

“The same lady in different clothing,” is how outgoing Justice Edna Arbel summed up the amendment to the anti-infiltration law the High Court of Justice overturned recently. Her written ruling revealed the state’s attempt to mislead the people and knowingly enact an illegal law. From the state’s perspective, “legal” is whatever it says is legal.

It’s no coincidence that Justice Uzi Vogelman was concerned by the government’s decision to term the detention facility at Holot an “open facility.” Holot is stuck in the middle of nowhere (in the Negev) and its inmates obliged to report for three daily head counts, morning, noon and night.

One can imagine the cynical brainstorming that produced this “open” term – the high-level group that pondered and strained to solve a legal problem, instead of trying to solve a human one. This semantic trick is irritating precisely because it is so familiar. Once again, here we have the new Israeli, the one who schemes and tries to avoid payment – or, in other words, responsibility.

We must rebuke them: You, who drained the swamps and made the desert bloom, who brought Jews here from every corner of the earth in rickety boats, on eagles’ wings, on magic carpets; you, who in the 1990s brought a million Russians here – a million Russians! – can’t manage to come up with a working plan for the decent integration of a distressed group of people, small in number, that is already here and can’t be deported?

This cynical moment is important because it encapsulates the story of our era. Many Israelis have ceased to believe they are subject to any kind of authority to whom they owe an accounting. And if there is no such authority, all that remains is to find the right clothing for our lady and see if she passes the High Court’s security check, or the mechanisms of international justice.

What the state refuses to accept is that what it wants is forbidden because it’s evil and, therefore, it has an obligation to find better alternatives, not ever more slippery semantics.

Those who recognize this cynicism carry historic memories in their hearts: the examples, too numerous to count, of situations in which the law was a weapon used to legitimize and carry out the large-scale killing of innocents. They understand that the moment the High Court ceases to save the state from itself, via moral scrutiny of its laws, we may as well close it down. But it’s worth reminding these people that protecting the rule of law is not an end in itself, and we mustn’t fall into that trap.

When a state turns on itself, it does so, inter alia, by means of its own bureaucratic systems. In addition to his crimes against the Jews and humanity, and in addition to the terrible war into which he dragged the entire world, Hitler destroyed Germany. Stalin destroyed the Soviet Union; Mao destroyed China. In all these regimes, the legal systems worked around the clock.

It’s possible that Israel has embarked on a campaign of self-destruction. But before it has been completed, we must not forget that, ultimately, elections will be held here. All that’s needed is to change the government – to build an opposition, and not despair of the people.

We mustn’t glorify the will of the people in every daily action. The ordinary citizen doesn’t ask himself if he agrees with the government’s policy before he pays his taxes; the ordinary soldier doesn’t ask himself if he agrees with the goals of a policy before he goes off to battle. Many people don’t even bother to vote in the elections.

The state is a bureaucratic machine that runs on inertia. Therefore, all that’s needed is to replace the leader with one who will take the bureaucratic machine known as the State of Israel, with all its parts, and change the direction in which it is moving.

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