Clearly, a man who is convicted of rape is not the victim of undeserved scorn. The only one who has irreparably stripped him of his dignity, the only who has wrought catastrophe upon his family, is Katsav himself through his own actions. Surely, the pardoning of a rapist would not spare the patriotic feelings of his countrymen; it would be an affront to every woman and a pat on the back to every man who has ever considered sexual harassment or assault.
The widespread concern was not about the conviction. It was about the image of the conviction, and the thought of what people might say. With this considered, it now strikes me that I shouldn’t be surprised at all. Worrying about public image above all else, about what people are saying, about “legitimacy,” is in fact the Zeitgeist in our great country.
If not for the compulsive need for a clean public image and external validation, how might one explain the elected government’s banning of history schoolbooks that present, without affirming, the Palestinian narrative alongside the Israeli? Or its legislative move to censor Nakba commemoration? What other reason can there be for Israel to bar some of its prominent international critics from entering the country, however disagreeable the opinions they voice?
Rapid deterioration of democracy
Anyone who has been following the rapid deterioration of Israel’s democracy should not be surprised by the latest turn of events, a McCarthyist move by Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party to “investigate” Israeli NGOs from the peace movement. The public is expected to accept the rationale that peace activists and leftist critics of the government are “anti-Zionist” and “harming Israel’s legitimacy.”
With organizations like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence standing accused for their monitoring of government-sanctioned theft of property and suspected IDF war crimes, the implication is not simply that government and military institutions are above reproach, but also that they embody Israel’s legitimacy, that they embody Zionism, and that any attack on their policies is an attack on Zionism itself.
Kastav’s crimes deserve straight-out condemnation, and while his apologists may believe that they are merely protecting the image of the presidency, they succeed in doing just the opposite: smearing public office with the illusion that it is above the law. Similarly, many of Israel’s policies regarding the Arabs deserve unequivocal condemnation. Those who suggest that illegal occupation and settlement are synonymous with Israel’s legitimacy, and that abuse of military power is the inalienable right of Zionism itself, suggest this with the intent of protecting the image of Israel and Zionism. In fact, by creating this connection, they succeed only in staining this image.
Zionism was devised to stand for Jewish escape from violence, not perpetration of violence against others. It stands for the affirmation of Jewish rights, not the denial of another people’s rights. It stands for Jewish independence, not the oppression of another people. Its most fundamental premise is that since all peoples have these rights, the Jews deserve no less. A government which through its actions defies this premise cannot accuse its critics of anti-Zionism; for it is itself anti-Zionist, it itself shakes the foundations of Israel’s legitimacy.
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