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Stigmatization Is Spreading in Israeli Culture

Dina Zilber
Dina Zilber
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Ayelet Shaked.
Ayelet Shaked.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Dina Zilber
Dina Zilber

Stigmas cling to people, stain them. So-called red flags and warning signs are part of the divisive rhetoric that signal whether you’re a friend or an enemy. Their goal is to create a pure in-group that thinks uniformly.

There is a process of filtering, screening and exclusion, just like separating the wheat from the chaff. And who are these people whom we need to get rid of, to block their promotion, so that they won’t, heaven forbid, be accepted as part the Israeli community and pollute its purist thinking, the “correct” thinking?

An article by Hilo Glazer (“I’ll be back soon,” Haaretz in Hebrew, June 17) described how a group of aides to former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked worked “to vet and promote conservative judges.” The “main element of the process,” he wrote, “was screening candidates in whose resumes ‘red flags’ stood out.”

An example? Attorney Dana Briskman, whose resume included the state prosecution’s High Court of Justice division and an internship with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. One aide said in the article that Supreme Court President Miriam Naor was ready “to kill herself to get her appointed to the district court.” Nevertheless, he continued, “I said over my dead body – and I won.”

Even relatively innocuous elements of a person’s biography served as warning signs. A candidate who studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for instance, was seen as needing further scrutiny. According to that same aide from Briskman’s case, the university is “considered a very left-wing, activist environment.” If he did an internship at a nonprofit organization and then got a job with the state prosecution, the aide continued, that puts him “into the rubric of ‘not one of ours.’”

Who did they view as having the potential to be a conservative judge? Someone who studied at Bar-Ilan University, interned at the Defense Ministry and then worked for a private law firm.

Those were the parameters. Not that he would be a good judge – professional, experienced, brilliant, efficient, sensitive, humane, decent, expert in his field, able to separate the important from the unimportant, devoted to his mission, with an extensive legal and nonlegal education. All that is evidently irrelevant. All that matters is that he be conservative.

Nor does it end with sifting through judicial candidates. This system of stigmatizing – which rejects the legitimacy of any opinion other than the one that certain people (who control yet thoroughly betray vital state institutions) believe is the only one anyone could or should hold – has spread, as stigmatizing usually does, to other fields.

For instance, it has spread to culture, a field in which anything that could be interpreted as offending some group’s sensibilities is labeled potentially explosive. Sometimes it’s censored, and sometimes it’s simply omitted due to an internal chilling effect – for why upset the neighbors?

The stigmatization system has spread to art, which is withdrawing into itself, avoiding provocations, sticking to what’s safe, making itself pleasant. That’s preferable to touching open wounds, because wounds are painful. And expressing an opinion – if it isn’t the “right” one – carries a heavy price.

The same is true of appointments and prizes. They sift through a person’s life going back decades, said the aides, who are devoted to their mission. Any petition you ever signed, any demonstration you ever attended, any Facebook post you or even a relative ever uploaded, any article you ever wrote, any professional or personal opinion you ever expressed that attests to you having a worldview and caring about the place you live – if, to your misfortune, it isn’t the conservatively correct opinion – is chalked up to your discredit.

The circles of disqualification are expanding – leftists, Arabs, artists, prosecutors, demonstrators, civil society organizations, cultural figures, journalists, academics. Or let’s make it simpler – anyone who is viewed as thinking differently and isn’t within the narrow circle of “one of us.”

Now we’ve learned that even Hebrew University graduates are immediately suspect, since it turns out the university is considered (by whom, exactly?) “a very left-wing, activist environment.” And it didn’t even know it. How fortunate that I graduated from Tel Aviv University.

Dina Zilber is a former deputy attorney general.

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