For Themselves, by Themselves: The Irrelevant Elites

What parades as liberal elitism is merely disdain for the general population.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

A number of complaints have been made recently about "the public." It all started at the funeral held earlier this month for the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, when respected commentators made light of police estimates of the huge numbers of mourners, and spoke with ultra-Orthodox experts as if they were out of some American Indian reservation. A few expressed revulsion at what they saw as a totally unenlightened event, while others mocked the crowd who turned out to mourn "a 93-year-old old man," as if it were legitimate only to mark the passing of young people and as if they themselves had not (justifiably) eulogized others who died at ripe old ages, such as philosopher-scientist Yeshayahu Leibowitz at 91 and Labor Party leader Yitzhak Ben-Aharon at 99.

Following last week's municipal elections, "the public" came into criticism for not turning out at the polls. They were called apathetic, spoiled and oblivious to their civic duty. And all because hundreds of thousands of people voiced their opinions by abstaining from an election that didn't propose an agenda or a more promising candidate than the incumbent. And when the election results didn't suit those groups of people who think of themselves as more enlightened and correct than their adversaries, the blame was again directed at "the public"—meaning that insufferable segment of the population that consists of anyone but the critics themselves.

It's just like Ben-Aharon himself said in the aftermath of the political rout in which Likud ousted the Labor Party in 1977: "If that's the decision, I don't respect it." The statement was symptomatic of the thinking then, and was transformed from an unfortunate slip of the tongue into a concealed and destructive statement of principle. Someone who fails to grant respect to a person whose beliefs and values are objectionable to him is not by any standard an enlightened liberal.

Unfortunately, since 1977, the phenomenon has only gotten worse. A large group of Israelis define themselves as exclusive standard-bearers for the rule of law, liberalism and democracy and enlightenment; but in the same breath they, disparage anyone who doesn't think, act and live as they do.

The accepted definition for this group is "the elite" or "the left," but such definitions are irrelevant. If there is a connection between those in their ivory tower and a left-wing worldview which seeks justice and equality, it is purely coincidental. Furthermore, the group has not constituted an elite for quite some time. Despite the comfortable professional and economic lives of members of this group, when it comes to key positions in the public and business sectors, they are cut off from centers of real social and cultural influence. Instead they speak among themselves about themselves. In practice, they have become a distinct sector of the population. Instead of leading and serving society as a whole in a process of major change, this group has been conducting a self-righteous, anachronistic and damaging quarrel with the other sectors in this country.

A particularly unfortunate example of this quarrel occurred recently in the High Court of Justice. Seven justices of the high court accused the public of having "its one eye shut," and provided a complex and tangled interpretation of the law, ordering three sitting mayors to resign on the very eve of the municipal elections. Ultimately they were shocked when the public, which according to indications voted for quality municipal services rather than against the high court, reelected the three mayors, who are all under indictment.

They could have expedited the investigations or heard petitions regarding the mayors' continued holdings of public office in another two months. Or they could have turned to the Knesset to change the law and in doing so, demonstrate that they come from among the people in their efforts to take responsibility and contend disputes. Instead, however, they chose to act as a sector of their own—preaching, reprimanding, insulting and becoming insulted. And they had zero influence on corruption in local government. All they did was impugn the public's reputation.

This disturbing failure is not a private matter. It involves Israel's democracy. By maintaining a purist position, the justices have played into the hands of MKs such as such as Yariv Levin, Ayelet Shaked and their colleagues. Be that as it may, the members of "the public" that they rushed to educate are not stupid. Nor is "the public" at fault, but nonetheless, it is they who will pay the price of this incompetence.

The funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: Shas is portraying him as the living father.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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