Thursday, May 28, 2020

Do the right thing

I felt compelled to write a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu.  And, no, I am not holding my breath.

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

In the 50 years that I have been a pro-Israel activist, and in the decade since I made Aliyah, I have never felt such a feeling of despair and shame.  Not about Israel and its people and promise, but about its leadership and politics.  I fear for the Zionist enterprise.

I have not always agreed with every policy or statement of the Israeli government and its political leaders.  But I have always been able to explain policies, put them in context, and demonstrate that they are part of the give-and-take of a robust Israeli democracy.

No longer.  I cannot explain how the Israeli democracy has a Prime Minister charged with serious crimes involving breach of trust and bribery, nor how he does not feel compelled to resign for the sake of the country.  It is difficult if not impossible to find any healthy democracy where this has happened.

You are, of course, entitled to a presumption of innocence and to a strong and full defense.  Part of that would be an aggressive counter-argument to the prosecution’s case.  However, to remain in office and to attack the judiciary and your opponents and to encourage the behavior of your allies in the manner you have undermines Israel’s democratic foundations.

I am ashamed of what you and some of your allies are doing.  I cannot defend or explain your actions.  You and your allies falsely and maliciously assert that the investigation and prosecution amount to an “attempted coup.”  You and your allies falsely and maliciously allege some vast conspiracy consisting of the media, the “left,” the police, the investigators, and the prosecution that is out to get you.

Incredibly, you allege that an Attorney General and police leaders that you appointed are part of this fantastic vast conspiracy.  Undoubtedly with your orchestration, some of your ministers and others beholden to you show up at your first Court hearing attacking the proceedings and those responsible for enforcing the law, questioning their legitimacy and thereby undermining faith in Israel’s legal and judicial processes and institutions.

Law enforcement and prosecution personnel have been viciously attacked and threatened.  The word “traitor” has been thrown around. They now require extraordinary security, and they undoubtedly and legitimately fear for their safety and that of their families.  Attacks on the judges involved have already begun.  If the judges rule against you, one can only imagine the attacks you and your allies will engage in.

On many occasions I have heard you boast about the strong, independent, honest Israeli judiciary.  You have heralded it as evidence of Israel’s democracy.  How do you explain your years of these assertions in light of your current attacks?  Were you lying then or are you lying now? Or did the corruption of these great institutions happen just in time to come after you?

I have also proudly held Israel’s judiciary out as one of its great democratic pillars, as have many of Israel’s strongest advocates.  How will any of us do so after the Prime Minister and many of his allies have spent months, probably years, tearing into that judiciary?

Prime Minister Menachem Begin chose not to annex Judea and Samaria.  He clearly refrained from doing so not out of fear of the reaction of any foreign country or person, including the President of the U.S.  If he held such fears, he would not have extended sovereignty over Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who voted against the Camp David Accords and never feared defying anyone, including U.S. Presidents, also chose not to annex the territories.  Same with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who also feared no one and nothing.

And same with you, Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister.  You have had over a decade to annex Judea and Samaria, but you never did it.  The former Prime Ministers and you all knew the costs of unilaterally asserting sovereignty over substantial parts of the territories and effectively having jurisdiction over two or two-and-a- half million Palestinians: combined with the number of Israel’s Arab population, it places Israel’s Jewish identity in serious jeopardy.

It threatens the entire Zionist purpose.  You know that and you knew better than to do that.  And so you did not do it.  Until now.

In order to please your base, to consolidate your power, to ensure that you stay in office and out of jail, you are now willing to take this step and jeopardize Israel’s Jewish identity, the bi-partisan support of its crucial ally, its peace treaty with a country that provides an essential buffer, and more.

For nothing:  Israel already effectively controls the area.

Your family has given much to Israel and Zionism.  You have much to be proud of.  Your father was one of its great intellectuals.  Your brother gave his life in one of Israel’s greatest military feats.  He is a legend.  You served bravely in a storied unit, risking your life and suffering wounds.  You put Israel on its path to economic success, and you kept Israel safe and economically vibrant for over a decade as Prime Minister.

But what you, and what your allies are doing for you now, to allow you to stay in office and to escape the same justice system every other citizen is subject to, will tarnish your and your family’s legacy.  It will overwhelm all that you and they have done.  It will define you in history, and it may very well contribute to the destruction of Israel’s democracy and Jewish identity.

I implore you to do what is right: put your country and your family’s legacy first.  Resign.

Respectfully,

Alan Edelstein
Jerusalem

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

28 comments:

  1. Well said !!!
    Too bad no one is listening not even Beni Gantz and his fellow Blue and White party members ...
    This situation is beyond distressing and if I think about it too much makes me feel physically ill !!!

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  2. Sorry to say that dear Alan,

    But you are totally wrong

    Bibi isn’t charged - the trail just began and they is only a claims...
    1,350,000 people do not believe in the claims...
    You know, there had been many who told David Ben Gurion not to declare independency, fortunately he did not listen to them.
    In Aretz Israel you grab opportunities and this smartly enough Bibi is doing
    Just to remind you what you said not long ago about the coronavirus

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  3. Modify the letter, change a few names and send to Trump. Hopefully you don’t disappear into the night

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  4. Alan, mostly we just disregard the enormity of political opinion these days. It’s almost as though everyone becomes an Internet expert trying to be relevant. Yet as a friend I read yours and this latest one deserves a response.

    Why even more bias now by publicly asking the Prime Minister of Israel to resign? If his politics were to the left would we instead see support. Even the Israeli Supreme Court did not hold your pre trial resignation position, nor have many experienced legal professionals.

    Why not instead praise democracy and the legal burden of government proof, instead of embarrassing Israel. Yes and sorry, but that is how it is perceived by the critics on the left. Alternatively why not stay with your first premise of presumption of innocence. Maybe that would simply be too inconvenient now. Even more so look at all the good the PM has brought to Israel with the renewed and supportive American leadership.

    Having been in the courtroom one cherishes such impartial forums. Generally when there are calls for pre judicial action, this is a sign of fear or case weakness. Make motions in court, not with hidden and protected words.

    My own wife had to defect from her place of birth, a communist country that imprisoned some family without legal process. Different political opinion and backgrounds led the purge there.

    An accused should not he tried by personal or political opinion. Hopefully we would all, regardless of our position in life, be entitled to defend ourselves. I’ll take the rationale analysis of legal scholars like another “Alan” (Dershowitz) any day. See below, sensible and legal versus the all too predictable opposition by emotion.

    Your comments are not backed up by facts nor any statutory basis. Let the judicial process work, or else go to court and argue to change those rules too. No ivory tower there. Steve


    https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/trump-lawyer-alan-dershowitz-israel-should-be-deeply-ashamed-629194

    PS. you may post this as a comment if you can

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    1. Steve:

      I am a citizen here and I participate in trying to make the country a better country. I love Israel. That is why I gave up a lot of money that will impact the way Dana and I live out our years, gave up an easy life to live here a good part of the year, fly back and forth, not see our grandchildren as much as we’d like, not see Dana’s 90 year old father as much as we’d like, and live-in a small three floor walk-up.

      As a citizen, I speak out on issues. I appreciate and love the country. It has a robust, wonderful democracy and judicial system which is now being attacked and undermined. I often explain to people how great a system it is. If you were on Facebook, you would see how much I defend and explain Israel. But now that it is under attack, it is incumbent upon me and other good people who care about the country to speak out. My speaking out demonstrates the very fact that we have a strong democracy. I and others want to protect it.

      Many highly respected Israelis who have fought for this country, including generals, former Mossad and Shin Bet heads, and other dedicated people, agree that now is the time that we must speak out for the sake of democracy and Israel’s future. See, e.g. Commanders for Israeli Security, http://en.cis.org.il/, The Institute for National Security Studies, https://www.inss.org.il/, and the Israel Democracy Institute, https://en.idi.org.il/ Moreover, I have already been contacted by many people who are great supporters of Israel, Americans and Israelis, thanking me for articulating their view. I was in shul this morning. Three or four Israelis came up to thank me for writing the piece. These are not left wing nuts.

      Often time American Jews get concerned about Israel’s direction and democracy. I tell them not to worry, that there are plenty of Israelis fighting to preserve the great things about the country. It is good for them to see that. I often criticize but put things into context for people. I get e-mails from many American Jews thanking me for being here and trying to keep the country’s promise, and for giving them insight into the country. (continued in next comment)

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    2. Here is a Facebook exchange I had yesterday about the piece. It is with a liberal American Jew who cares about these issues but does not know much about Israeli politics. I think this exchange does more good for Israel than just saying everything is fine. These people read the NY Times, etc. They won’t buy a “everything’s great” but they will be influenced by this:

      “Well said Alan. Growing up I always viewed Israel as a beacon of democracy in the middle east. Sad that the current prime minister has tarnished that beacon.”
      Alan Edelstein “Fortunately, while Netanyahu and some to the right of him would like to fundamentally alter the Court's make-up and orientation, to date they have not been successful. We have a very activist, enlightened court with a world view. Even I, who 9 times out of 10 likes its decisions, sometimes has trouble figuring out the rationale for some of the decisions other than "We think it is right and just." Some of this comes from the fact that we do not have a real constitution, so the Court has to draw from the Basic Laws, outside legal systems, general concepts of justice, etc. Also, consider the following: 1) Israeli democracy is only 72 years. 2) About 20% of our citizens are Arabs that were on the losing side of our War of Independence, and that many still have a complicated relationship with the State. 3) About 40-50% of our population are from, or are children or grandchildren of people from, Arab and North African countries who had no experience in democratic life and who often had justifiably bitter experiences living in those countries. 4) About a million of our citizens are from the Soviet Union, again coming with no experience or grounding in democratic life. 5) We live with constant threat of terrorism. Given all of this, Israeli democracy is remarkably robust and peaceful. Having said all that, there are many forces from both within and outside the country that are putting many important aspects of our democracy at risk. Many good people in Israel are constantly fighting to maintain and protect the democracy. It is a very tough fight and we could certainly use more help. As I sometimes tell my liberal American Jewish friends who say they are alienated from or disturbed by Israel because of some of its behavior: "Every single problem you have identified would go a long way to being solved if you and 999,999 of your like-minded friends would move here, become citizens, speak out, and vote." I am under no illusions that this will happen, but Trump might end up sending a few over.
      Yvonne Hunter Alan Edelstein Thanks, Alan. As always, a well thought out and factual commentary from you. Another reason you were such an effective advocate in the legislative process and why I so enjoyed working with you (and occasionally against you).

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    3. The Supreme Court said the law did not require Bibi to resign. I agree with that. I never said the law requires him to resign. I urged him to resign for the good of the country, just as he urged Olmert to resign, saying that an indicted PM should not continue to serve:
      https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/israel-news/1688361/flashback-video-when-olmert-was-indicted-netanyahu-said-pm-olmert-should-resign.html

      I do not deviate from my position that Bibi deserves the presumption of innocence and a strong defense. However, he does the country and its reputation and its ability to function great damage serving as PM while being on trial for serious charges. Also, as I said in the piece, he and his allies are doing great damage to the judiciary and the democratic character of the country with the tactics they are using. Moreover, they are very close to the edge of causing violence and perhaps injury or death. As I said, they are using words like “coup” and “traitor.” It is very dangerous for a sitting PM and his supporters to use those words about fellow citizens who are doing their jobs.

      I did look at the good Bibi has done. Re-read what I wrote: “ Your family has given much to Israel and Zionism. You have much to be proud of. Your father was one of its great intellectuals. Your brother gave his life in one of Israel’s greatest military feats. He is a legend. You served bravely in a storied unit, risking your life and suffering wounds. You put Israel on its path to economic success, and you kept Israel safe and economically vibrant for over a decade as Prime Minister.”

      I said he has done good things, and now he should resign and try to maintain his legacy rather than damage the country and be identified with doing that.

      Regarding if this was done by someone on the left, I know for certain I would be doing the same thing. I have criticized people on the left plenty.

      Lastly, I would like you to think about this: I recently wrote a column where I said that I had been wrong when I criticized Israel’s strict and early lockdown of flights into the country. I could not believe the accolades I received simply because I said I was wrong. Apparently no one does that anymore. But I looked at the facts and what informed people were saying and I changed my mind. You’ve known me for over 50 years. You know I have been a fierce advocate for Israel all of that time. Many times you congratulated me for my work. You know that I quit my firm, that we give up seeing family much of the year, that we live in a small apartment rather than our comfortable condo with a pool, so that we could live here. I would ask that you consider just for a moment whether I might have good reasons for feeling as I do and doing what I am doing. Could it possibly be that I am right and you are wrong, not the other way around? Perhaps I see things here that you don’t, or I talk with people that you don’t, that give me some insight into what the situation is and what needs to be done to protect the country that we both love and that I came to live in.

      Regarding Alan Dershowitz, he should be ashamed. First, he does not practice law here. Second, many excellent Israeli lawyers, who would not think to intrude on the American judicial system and lecture its practitioners, strongly believe that the Prime Minister and his allies are doing great damage to Israel’s judicial system and democracy and should resign. I put more faith in their opinion than in Dershowitz’, who put forth a very discredited theory in defense of President Trump and who appears to have gone off the deep end in many respects.

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  5. So well put. It's nearly unbelievable that an Israeli leader could turn into such a creature. I don't know the correct political word - I"m sure you do and there are many of them. Your writing is perfect here - you said it all so well.
    I stopped reading the Israeli political stuff a while ago as I just see it as "Sinat Chinam" (the baseless hatred that brought down the beit HaMikdash - supposedly). I fear it could do the same in Israel. I certainly hope not.
    In any case, thank you for writing this piece and so many others.

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  6. Wow! You definitely expressed your thoughts.

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  7. Wow. No subtleties here. Great piece.

    It's fairly amazing how my family in Israel who was always with Herut/Likud have taken a much different view of Netanyahu. I'm not sure they're where you are, but they're clearly not with their own history.

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  8. I read this with attention but without much depth of knowledge. I respect all you have said. But I can't help stating my aversion to politics by defamation - true or not.
    When Rabin was killed, I thought the parties should have immediately and unanimously put in power someone maintaining his platform and agenda as a statement to the world, "All of us accept the rule of law and ballot box, we declare here and now that our politics will never be changed by murder."
    My understanding is the charges against Netanyahu are not high crimes even if true. The voters knew the charges and elected him anyway. Are they not entitled to grant him a pardon? Should the opposition be allowed to remove him by a back door?

    Over the past few decades Washington politics seems to me to have degraded to interminable squabbles over the human imperfections of our leaders. I do not want my leaders focusing on their backs, I would prefer that they focus forward, looking for solutions to our collective substantial problems.

    i suspect the media rarely covers most potential solutions because there is little broad interest in any one issue, and also because media has a very difficult time explaining any solution that involves more than one straight forward step. Problems that simple do not come to government. Defamation of character or really murder of the spirit - is easy- and supposedly, has a broad audience. That may be good for media stories, but not for getting things that need to be done underway.

    Me? My very uneducated view is that Bibi gets a pass.

    I do love reading your stuff.

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  9. I have a feeling that you may get some pretty nasty responses to this post. I hope that I am wrong, but in today's on-line climate, the only thing comparable to the on-line responses that I see would possibly, possibly be the morals of Caribbean pirates. Seriously, I agree with you completely. Netanyahu has always been suspect in my opinion for win at any cost politics and he continues to prove the point. It seems that the early 21st century is marked by the emergence of narcissistic nationalist leaders, reminiscent of fascism. I don't think that is too strong a term to use when comparing the behavior of Netanyahu, Trump, and Orban to Mussolini. Boris Johnson comes off looking like a moderate.

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  10. If you changed the salutation to “Dear President Trump” the letter would be equally accurate.

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  11. Powerful and well done! As I was reading this I kept putting Donald Trumps name instead of Natanyahus and what you wrote could pretty much be applied to Trump until you came to Natanyahu’s family and army record which Trump is the opposite.

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  12. Great commentary. This helps to clarify my thinking on the current situation. Like you, I have long admired Bibi; but its time for him to go. And I agree about the annexation item. All of this stated with the understanding that I am not a citizen of Israel and thus have less skin in the game.

    Good work.

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  13. This is a great piece. Thanks for writing it.

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  14. Excellent letter!

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  15. Congratulations on a very persuasive essay. I am glad you are there fighting the fights.

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  16. Very powerful letter. Sounds like leadership here! Horrible.

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  17. I always read your messages when I get them & like them very much, but it's the first I really feel the urge to write to you.
    I congratulate you for your courage to write this letter to Netanyahu & express so clearly your thoughts that I share with you completely.
    I enjoy very much your ability to write in a balanced way although I suppose that you feel a lot of anger & disappointment.
    ISHAR COHAJ!!!!

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  18. Another artfully done letter/article. Now would you mind making just a few edits such as replacing Netanyahu with the word Trump, change the word Israel to United States, change just a few of the facts as they relate to the US president and then send off to the white house?

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  19. This may be the most eloquent articulation of the current situation in Israel I
    have ever read!! As the Sephardim say, “ Baruch Haba!!”

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  20. You are totally wrong

    Bibi isn’t charged - the trail just began and they is only a claims...
    1,350,000 people do not believe in the claims...
    You know, there had been many who told David Ben Gurion not to declare independency, fortunately he did not listen to them.
    In Aretz Israel you grab opportunities and this smartly enough Bibi is doing.

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  21. I can appreciate your sentiments.
    On the other hand, it is not all that negative.
    We have a vigorous, often over-vigorous, democracy.
    Add to that the virus.
    I try and follow the leadership thinking in the USA.
    Not simple.
    And yet, despite being annoyed from time to time, we enjoy
    our life here.

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  22. I greatly appreciate, admire and agree with the email letter
    you sent to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
    Every word is correct and in the right place.

    When I came to Israel as a teenager in 1947 I felt confident
    and sure we could always overcome our surrounding
    enemies - and I still am. But I am very worried now with what is
    happening inside our country.

    I was surprised to see that more or less the same number
    of people were voting for Netanyahu in all three elections.
    I am aware of the reasons behind this - but still ?

    We need a basic law that allows a prime minister to serve
    for two terms only.

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  23. Wasn’t Olmert also in some sort of trouble? I personally would have voted for Bibi, thankful with how he was keeping Israel safe. But what allows one man to have such power without anyone knowing?
    So disappointing. With all the wonders the country has accomplished, Israel’s reputation has to be scarred by a man’s bad habits. Unfortunately, this makes it too easy for anti-Semites to continue their ‘blame game’, causing distrust of our people.

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  24. not holding your breath is a good idea.
    2. sadly, i do not expect more from bibi but his "poodles", to me, are an even bigger disappointment.
    3. i promise not to tell them the color/model of the car you drive.

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