12 August 2009

Minister Eli Yishai and the unbearable lightness of rabble rousing

Granted, Israel is far from being the only place on this planet where rabble rousing is practiced. As in other countries that follow the tenets of democracy, there is no effective protection from the verbal pollution of the kind that some politicians and other public figures produce. Which is a pity. Because the manner in which our Interior Minister* Eli Yishai is using ethnicity as a political blackmail tool is, in my humble opinion, a borderline case of incitement against the state.

The recent brouhaha started with Eli Yishai's colleague and senior Shas politico Shlomo Benizri being convicted of bribery, breach of trust, and conspiracy to commit a crime. Of course, Mr Benizri is only a single link in the growing chain** of Shas luminaries ending their political careers in criminal courts. It happens so consistently and so predictably that it's not fun to follow anymore. And of course, Mr. Benizri is crying persecution, and he is doing it so loudly that his appeal to the Supreme Court ended by additional three years of prison time, after the said court reviewed the case. With a scathing commentary:

But now it is time for Benizri to serve his sentence, like any other convicted criminal; and his party and its leader must once again ask themselves how it happened that Shas, the very party that espouses social issues, is the one that has nurtured so many delinquents.
But of course, the words fell on deaf ears. Aside of that part about "social issues" that obviously triggered a knee-jerk response. As a weapon of last resort, Benizri's friend and political leader Eli Yishai turns to the ethnic issue in his appeal for pardon sent to President Peres:
As a public figure, a son of the Sephardic community, the Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of Shas, I join [the request to pardon Benizri submitted by someone else]. I don't want to use arguments raised by others who refer to the feelings of discrimination, the 'second Israel,' the feelings of oppression and the social wound that still bleeds.

I will also refrain from referring to expressions that give harsh and precise expression to the deep feelings of sorrow that exist and the exposed nerves, even though they too should be taken into account in response to this request addressed to you.
While some may find comical content in that "I don't want to use..., I will also refrain...", I find a nauseating and repeating pattern of rabble rousing of the worst kind used to deflect the issue of criminal wrongdoing into the realm of ethnic grievances - the realm where Shas***, as a political entity, excels from the day it was conceived.

It will be a stupid blindness to deny that this country has known its share of ethnic discrimination and that some social inequality still exists as a result of the past wrongdoings. Nevertheless, blaming the Benizri trial outcome on ethnic persecution is an intentional and malicious slander (against whom, by the way? - especially when used by a minister and deputy PM?), used in coldly calculating and revolting manner. The moral turpitude of Eli Yishai will make a snake throw up.

Says Haaretz editorial:
Israel's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister is not conversant with the workings of democracy or the rule of law. As someone who grew up in a party run by an autocratic rabbi, Eli Yishai believes this is how the state should be run as well. There is no other way to explain his scandalous letter to President Shimon Peres...
Beg pardon, dear Haaretz, but you have gone off kilter. Eli Yishai is far from being stupid, he knows quite well how democracy works and doesn't have any use for it - unless for his own nefarious ends - which is precisely how he uses his freedom of speech in this case.

One thing that Eli Yishai is unable to quit in that democracy: being a professional Mizrahi.

Too bad...

(*) And Deputy PM, which means that this character in certain circumstances could become our PM. The mere thought curdles one's blood...

(**) It is not to say that other, more established parties are cleaner - they just have had more time at the public trough, so police investigations regarding them are more spread out in time. Shas folks are greedy, as many a newcomer is.

(***) This (and a few other, lesser political entities) misogynistic, gay-hating, reactionary and overall medieval gang would have not been out of place in some other Middle-Eastern states we mention as an epitome of dark ages.