Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Judge Did It

A battle of the giants is going on in Israel as the Winograd Commission investigating the actions of Israel’s government and army during the War in Lebanon II is attempting to have a reversal of the ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court that testimony given during that investigation be released to the public next week.

According to informed sources this is a test of wills that doesn’t even involve the concerned parties, Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz, and former Chief of Staff Halutz.

Rather this is a power struggle between the commission and the Supreme Court with egos and the settling of old scores in the mix. The author Bernard Malamud once wrote, “There is no such thing as an apolitical Jew.” He would not be have been surprised by the behavior of the judges in the highest court in the land, nor the former judges and professors on the Winograd committee.

One analyst claims that part of the committee’s resistance to the Supreme Courts order to release the testimony stems from the bitter resentment two of the commission members have for Supreme Court president Dorit Benesch. Reportedly two of the commission members were previously turned down for seats on the high court by Benesh’s predecessor and mentor, former Supreme Court President Aaron Barak. It is also said that their dislike of Benesch goes back to her time in the judicial system.

The pettiness of the behavior of officials so powerful at so crucial a time in Israel’s history goes nearly unnoticed. The media is barking at the Commission for the report, which is expected to do grave harm to PM Olmert. The court case brought by a Knesset member of the left-wing Meretz Party to release the documents is at the core of this struggle. But that case is ostensibly only an excuse for the airing of old rivalries.

As if nothing is going on, PM Olmert is carrying on with his administration, and adjusting policies to gain public support. Today he announced a multi-billion-shekel plan to help alleviate poverty in Israel. He has also announced that he is in favor of negotiations with the Palestinians according to guidelines set out by the Saudi plan.

None of PM Olmert’s actions will prevent the other shoe from falling, according to political analysts. Once the Winograd Commission’s report is finally made public, all the good will and good intentions he garnered trying to win public support will be buried beneath the revelation of the reportedly amateurish way the war was conducted.

Some analysts have said that through these new initiatives PM Olmert is attempting to repeat former PM Sharon’s actions when beset on all sides by charges of favoritism and corruption. Sharon, according to some cynical commentators, went for the disengagement plan, pulling out the Jewish population from the Gaza Strip, and dismantling the settlements, in order to deflect the courts aim at his honesty.

The height of the disengagement coincided with the second Intifada and then the bubbling pot waiting to boil Sharon alive in the judicial system. But the country was so beleaguered by Hamas in Gaza and the radical Arabs in the West Bank, no Attorney General nor Prosecuting Attorney had the backing or courage to indict Sharon or his sons.Ultimately one of his sons, Omri, was indicted and convicted, but the sentence was so light as to be merely symbolic.

Politics in Israel are intertwined in every facet of life. The fate of Finance Minister Hirschson is also in the hands of the politicians. The fact that other departments under his control have been tainted with scandal only weakens Hirschson’s chances to get out with his skin. The investigation into the head of the Income Tax Authority, a Finance Ministry department suspected of making deals with businessmen favored by the politicians, may well be Hirschson’s undoing.

All this could reach up and pull Olmert from his seat at the head of the government. Olmert’s office manager was also asked to step down from her job as part of the tax break scandal. She’d been with Olmert for over twenty-years. The media is quick to connect her to Olmert, although no proof has as yet been made public.

Ironically, the Israeli currency, the Shekel, has never been stronger. The exchange rate is 4.01 Shekels to the dollar, a drop of nearly 10 percent in six months. Last April, a year ago, the Shekel reached 4.70 to the dollar. Exporters are feeling the crunch, but the little guy benefits, in the short run. As is usually the case the retailers will begin raising prices on imported goods even if they are buying them cheaper.

Meanwhile goods imported from the USA are cheaper, but export payments linked to the dollar suffer. Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fisher, a world-renowned economist, has said that Israelis should consider billing in Shekels since the currency is so strong and stable.

Israel’s 59th birthday is just around the corner. In less than a week Israelis will stuff themselves with barbequed meat, humus, cole slaw and pita bread. Families will make a special effort to travel somewhere, find an empty patch of ground, set up picnic tables, and start a barbeque going.

One wonders though if David Ben Gurion and those other legendary founders of Israel ever expected their noble experiment to last as long as it did? Or if they were convinced that Israel could easily last a thousand years?

In retrospect Israel has soldiered on, fought well until recently, and made astounding strides in nearly every field. One of the wistful thoughts that circulate from those early years was that the founders wanted a country just like any other country, with prostitutes, thieves, criminals, entrepreneurs, scholars, and a surfeit of heroes.

Looking at the gestalt of what is Israel today, they certainly attained their goals. Now, perhaps, a new generation of dreamers will come along and see if some of the more common human traits, all to evident in Israel these days, can be honed to a sharper edge, raising the standard of human behavior up a few more notches to perhaps prove that success and humanity can go hand in hand.

Maybe even the Judiciary will join in.