Thus didn’t Herzl write in Altneuland: his famous punch line referred to a dream, of course. That dream came true, but so did the nightmarish sight of an intellectual tyranny.
Ever since Israel’s first Minister of Justice Pinhas Rosen called his law partner Moshe Zmora to appoint him President of the Supreme Court, the country’s ruling elites have mastered a type of nepotism that favors and reproduces intellectual uniformity. Former Chief Justice Aaron Barak made sure that Ruth Gavison wouldn’t get his job because she had dared to question his judicial activism (“She has an agenda” Barak explained –as if Barak himself didn’t have one). Similarly, Barak declared in January 2008 that the Minister of Justice’s attempts to reform the appointment of Israel’s Supreme Court could turn Israel into a third world country.
Really? Actually, Israel is the only Western democracy whose Supreme Court is not appointed by politicians. Our judges are selected by a nine-member committee comprised of two cabinet ministers (chosen by the government), one coalition and one opposition MK (chosen by the Knesset), three sitting justices (chosen by the Supreme Court President), and two lawyers (chosen by the Bar Association). So politicians occupy only four out of the nine seats. The legal establishment, with five seats, dominates the panel.
What Minister of Justice Daniel Friedmann wanted to do in 2007 was to give the political system a majority. He proposed an eleven member panel with two ministers, two MKs and two Bar Association representatives (just like today), but only two Supreme Court justices rather than three. The remaining three members would be a retired district court judge (chosen by the government), a public figure from any field except law (also chosen by the government), and an academic from a field other than law (appointed by the council of university presidents).
Aaron Barak claimed that Friedmann’s proposal would politicize the court and "set Israeli democracy back several years." Given Barak’s knowledge of other legal systems, his statement was sheer hypocrisy. In most Western democracies, the government dominates the process of nominating Judges. In the United States, the President appoints justices and the Senate confirms them. In Germany, Parliament's upper and lower houses each select half the justices. In Austria, the Government and Parliament each appoint half. In France, the President appoints nine of the fifteen justices, while the heads of the two houses of Parliament appoint three each. In Switzerland, Parliament selects the justices; in Sweden, the Government does. In Australia, Canada, Belgium and Norway, justices are appointed by the monarch but either nominated or approved by the Government. In Japan, the Government appoints the justices and voters must ratify its choices in the next election.
Are these third world countries? No, those are democracies, meaning polities whose fundamental premise is that the people should choose their rulers, and since supreme courts must occasionally rule on major political and social issues, this includes justices. Moreover, since judges interpret the law differently (which is why many verdicts are split decisions), supreme courts should properly reflect a wide spectrum of opinion. Democratic selection processes achieve this goal, since governments change frequently, and different governments tend to appoint candidates with different judicial worldviews.
A process dominated by the judiciary, in contrast, perpetuates ideological uniformity, because sitting Judges prefer candidates who share their own views. This is why Barak blocked Gavison, and this is why Israel’s Supreme Court is not representative of the country’s social fabric.
The same intellectual nepotism rules in Academia. A few months ago, Dr. Ran Baratz lost his job at the Hebrew University’s philosophy department because of his politics (he lives beyond the “Green Line,” is a fellow at the conservative Shalem Center, and is involved with the unapologetically Zionist grassroots movement “Im Tirzu”). While he received his doctorate with honors and was consistently rated the department’s best lecturer by students, he committed the “crime” of not toeing the party line.
It is precisely against this intellectual tyranny that Im Tirzu is struggling. Recently, for instance, it made public the fact that Ben-Gurion University’s political science department is basically an indoctrination machine that leaves no place for critical thinking, let alone dissent.
The reaction of Israel’s academic establishment to Im Tirzu’s resistance has been hysterical. Last in date is Prof. Zeev Sternhell’s op-ed in Ha’aretz. The Left, explains Sternhell, has been dominating academia for the past six decades, and this should remain so. Why? Because the Left promotes peace, while the Right promotes war. So being from the Right means being a warmonger. Talk about a lazy and demagogical way of trying to embarrass and intimidate your opponents. Then Sternhell goes to explain why there are new think-tanks and movements in Israel who “dare” to challenge intelligent, saintly, and well-meaning people such as himself: It is because, you see, those Israeli right-wingers never managed to produce a true intellectual. So because there is no Israeli equivalent of Raymond Aron or Milton Friedman, the Israeli Right is trying to intimidate the country’s academics via the Shalem Center and Im Tirzu.
The fact that there is hardly an Israeli equivalent of Raymond Aron or Milton Friedman is mostly true. And there is a reason for it too: Israel’s Social Sciences and Humanities departments would never let such people emerge in the first place. Ask Ran Baratz about it: you cannot get a tenured position if you are a “dissident.” Zeev Sternhell is part of the intellectual cartel that prevents people like Ran Baratz to have an academic career in the Humanities and in the Social Sciences. And then Sternhell complains about the fact that dissidents, because they are barred from academia, have the nerve to try and express themselves elsewhere.
So dissidents must be prevented from expressing themselves even outside of academia, and Sternhell knows just how to do that: by using force, he suggests. He threatens to encourage the international boycott of Israeli universities that will try to put an end to the intellectual monopoly of Sternhell and his peers. And then comes the ultimate threat to Education Minister Gideon Saar and to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Incidentally, both men aspire to one day become Prime Minister –which means that they need the “approval” of the Branja. If you want that approval, warns Sternhell, say loud and clear that Im Tirzu is the enemy.
Strong will, perseverance and determination, is what will enable true pluralism to finally emerge in our Humanities and Social Science departments. If you will it, the nightmare will soon be over.