Once Upon a Time in Israel

“Lawyers have their duties as citizens, but they also have special duties as lawyers. Their obligations go far deeper than earning a living as specialists in corporation or tax law. They have continuing responsibility to uphold the fundamental principles of justice from which the law cannot depart.” [Robert Kennedy]

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem during 2 February, 2008, famed historian Bernard Lewis remarked astutely, “But Israel democracy, like its other edges, is in danger – and here I would like to  put in a word for electoral reform. There is no direct election here, and therefore the representatives are not held accountable to anyone other than their party leaders and directorates. In addition, minor splinter groups are granted more importance than they deserve proportionally, and the entire system encourages corruption.” [ Hillel Fendel – Arutz 7]

On April 1, 2009, Professor Lewis argued more aggressively on the given subject as reported by the Wall Street Journal. In fact, he titled his remarks, “Israel’s Election System is no Good”! He emphasizes the significant disadvantage of the present system in there not being a direct relationship between the elected members and the electors.

He explains further by pointing to the Anglo-American system where every member is directly answerable to the people of the place he represents. In other words, citizens watch their member’s actions and vote accordingly in the next election. From this follows the obvious accessibility of an MK to a citizen in the case of Israel. Thus, a citizen would be afforded the opportunity of having issues of concern directly addressed.

As it stands today, MK’s can and do ignore nor requests from citizens. Further, citizens have no idea of how much time individual MK’s devote their time to matters of consequence. Professor Lewis explains this dilemma fully. He explains its manifestation by stating categorically how  in the Israeli system, the member is only responsible to the party leadership or, worse still, to the party bureaucracy.

In other words, his success or failure in the election depends less on the will of the electorate than on the place assigned to him in the party list. “This is a healthy system, and it can only encourage the corruption about which so many Israelis complain today”, says Lewis. This may have been the case at the time when Bernard Lewis’s article appeared in print. At present, the Israeli public appears to have lost sight of this disastrous situation.

Continuing, Professor Lewis states that the Knesset would improve dramatically in quality and experience if its members, including the members of the government, were obliged to fight and win their own election and re-election by the electorate.

Unfortunately, the majority of Israeli citizens have not experienced representative democracy which was recognizably absent in Russia and the world of Islam. This would, of course apply to children and grandchildren growing up in Israel.

This state of affairs brings to mind the defiant anti-Zionist Satmar Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum. Zionists, as the author found  his rejectionist views offensive and unacceptable. His reasons given  when abbreviated amounted to the following:

[a] Jews should not forcibly “breach the wall” and enter the Land of Israel.

[b] The Jews should not rebel against the nations of the world.

[c] “—if we place all the immodesty and promiscuity of the generation and the many sins of the world on one side of the scale, and the Zionist state on the other side of the scale by itself, it would outweigh them all.

[d] Zionists made belief in the Torah and fulfillment of religious obligations a private matter.

[e] Many times in Jewish history , an extremist minority misled the majority. Worshipping the golden calf happened earlier. Today it is political Zionism. Before its emergence, piety, decency, learning and belief in justice and mercy, characterized most Jewish leaders. Now they’re the minority. Its why they can’t believe a good Jew can’t be Zionist, and a Zionist can’t be a good Jew and aren’t the legitimate spokespersons for anyone but themselves. From a religious  point of view , they’re heretics.

When we consider prevailing times as regards Israel’s government, was he so wrong? For those of us who emigrated from western countries, we  find ourselves disenfranchised. MK’s mostly behave like lords of the manor. Prosecutors consider themselves above the law and only answerable to themselves. Miscreants and felons are largely favored as opposed to fair judgments. The Appellate Divisions has little difficulty in dismissing criminal cases utilizing petty arguments as opposed to scrutinizing the facts of the appeal.

Israel’s flawed electoral process, undoubtedly makes possible the disenfranchisement of all citizens. Interestingly in the period following Ben Gurion’s Proclamation of the state, despite adoption of Parliamentary Democracy, the judicial system appears to have been modeled on that of the British. This can be recognized by a reading of Ben Hecht’s, “Perfidy”.

First, an introduction to its less than benighted author, the sainted Ben Hecht. He has been described as an imaginative and prolific author whose literary productivity defies easy classification or assessment. His autobiography, “A Child of the Century” was published in 1954. By way of explaining himself, he quotes from a 1941 column entitled, “My tribe is Called Israel.”

I write of Jews today, I who never knew himself as one before, because that part of me which is Jewish is under a violent and apelike attack. My way of defending myself is to answer as a Jew——–My angry critics all write that they are proud of being Americans and of wearing carnations, and that they are sick to death of such efforts of mine  to Judaise them and increase generally the Jew-consciousness of the world. At the time, he met Peter Bergson who was spearheading an American organization in support of the Irgun.

Hecht’s “Perfidy”, published in 1961 is described as a controversial and polemical account of the Jewish state’s early leadership.In essence, the book focuses on how towards the end of the Shoah, the Jews of Hungary were betrayed by Rudolph Kastner, Deputy head of the Relief and Rescue Committee, an ideological affiliate of Mapai [precursor of today’s Zionist Union Party]. Hecht informs us how following the Nazi invasion of Hungary during March, 1944, Kastner willingly collaborated with Dieter Wisliceny, a senior aid to Gestapo Jewish Section Chief Adolph Eichmann, to save the lives of affiliates and family.

The ensuing criminal trial centers on 3 principal characters in a libel case initiated by Israel’s Attorney General Haim Cohn against Malkiel Grunwald who was allied to the Irgun. His “crime” was to disseminate a mimeographed newsletter accusing Kastner of collaborating with the Nazis. The trial’s proceedings demonstrates a professionalism and reliability that is sadly lacking in Israel of today.

Tamir, the defendant’s attorney, had served his country as an Irgun “terrorist”. As such, he was imprisoned by the British in Kenya. Whist there, he partially studied law. Upon discharge, he continued his studies at Hebrew University and the British Law school in Jerusalem. He had been chief of Irgun intelligence in Jerusalem. Hecht considered Attorney Shmuel Tamir to be the most important of the three heroes in the given history.

It should be noted that what is being addressed is a libel case, one brought by Israel’s attorney -general, Haim Cohn against an Irgun sympathizer Malkiel Grunwald against Kastner’s wishes. Further, at the time Kastner was employed as a spokesman for the Ministry of Industry and Trade – hence Cohn’s and the governing Mapai’s determination to quash the charges..

A selection of examinations and cross-examinations demonstrates the quality of justice:

Tamir: Have you a copy of the sworn affidavit you gave the German enquirers into Becher’s  Nazi status?

Kastner: I don’t know. I may have. But I’m not sure.

Tamir: You have brought into this court a briefcase bulging with documents, many of them of no importance at all. How is it you did not keep a document of such historical importance?

Kastner: I don’t have to keep every scrap of paper.

Tamir: Was it a long or short affidavit?

Kastner: I don’t recall how many pages. But I think it was short.

Tamir: Was it in favor of Becher or against him?

Kastner: Neither in favor nor against. I tried only to tell the truth – not to help  or damage.

Tamir: Am I correct in my assumption, Dr. Kastner, that your only aim in Nuremberg was to serve truth  and justice?

Kastner: That is true.

Tamir: And it is also the truth they you had no reason, personal or Jewish, to do anything to help  Becher?

Kastner: That’s true.

Tamir: And you will also agree with me that the most you would do for this man Becher would be to tell the truth about him without offering any personal opinion in his behalf?

Kastner: That is true.

Tamir: By the way, when was Becher released [by the International Court Authorities  in Nuremberg]?

Kastner: Not at all.

Tamir: I tell you now that owing to your personal intervention, Kurt Becher was released from prison at Nuremberg.

Kastner: That’s a dirty lie.

Tamir: May I have Exhibit 22, your Honor?

Tamir: I read from your letter marked Exhibit 22 – quote, “Kurt Becher was an ex-SS Colonel and served as a liaison officer between me and Himmler during our rescue work. He was released from prison in Nuremberg by the occupation forces of the Allies owing to my personal intervention.” Will you try to explain yourself for the record, Dr. Kastner?

Judge Halevi addressing Kastner: Did you tell anybody  in Kluj what you knew about the extermination that was going on  in Auschwitz?

Kastner: I beg the court’s permission to explain. I cannot answer in one word. Those whom I contacted heard me say what the Germans were doing to Jews in Poland and Russia.

Judge Halevi: That was not my question. Did you tell anyone that the Germans were preparing the deportation of Hungary’s Jews to Auschwitz?

Kastner: I had no definite knowledge. I heard rumors  in Budapest spread by Germans and Hungarians about resettling the Jews in Kenyermeze. We all tried to check these rumors.

Judge Halevi: But you said yourself that at the end of April you knew that the gas chambers and crematoria were ready in Auschwitz. And that the train schedule for deportation had been fixed.

This sampling is totally inadequate to do justice to the issues at hand. A fraction of Tamir’s summation:

“Guilty for their deaths are first the German murderers. Next, the criminality of the nations who aided the murders, actively or passively – Hungary on the one hand and England on the other. Guilty next are the other great civilized nations, whose acquiescence and indifference spurred on the slaughter. But guilty also is the small-souled, criminal leadership and cowardice of our own Jewish leaders. They knew only how to grab power.——-Who is the Attorney General representing – the citizens of our state or the private interests of some officials of the state?”

The difference from then to now lies in the ethical and professionalism of Judge Halevi and Advocate Tamir. The former stated that “Kastner sold his soul to the devil.” The case lasted 10 months, included 60 witnesses, hundreds of documents and generated 3,000 pages of testimony. All five Supreme court justices upheld Judge Halevi’s verdict on the “criminal and perjurious  manner” in which Kastner after the war had saved Nazi war criminal Becher – ‘without justification’. Further, two of the judges upheld Judge Halevi’s findings that Kastner had collaborated with the Nazis during the war. Three did not.

Tamir did not waste any time preparing a criminal case against Rudolph Kastner. However, he was denied the opportunity since Kastner was murdered on March 3, 1957.

Sadly, in contemporary times the Israeli media does not sport a Ben Hecht.










About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.