Thursday, February 24, 2005

[This is an edited version of the original post.]

Yesterday a certain Knesset committee hosted a delegation of North American lawyers. They were invited by the committee chairman who figures that having some international involvement in a particular one of the committee's project will add prestige to the enterprise.

It was an opportunity for a variety of legislators and legal eagles to show off their poor command of English and their even poorer command of the American liberal mindset. Top prize for provincial posturing goes to the Shinui MK who assumed that, since the visitors were of liberal temperament and not overtly religious, they must share her fashionable contempt for all religious people. She announced that the only people who oppose the withdrawal from Azza are religious fanatics and that the upcoming civil war would in fact be a religious war. The visitors were very impressed.

One high point was when the first American speaker began by saying rather benignly "We'd like to know in what way we can assist you..." At that point the Israeli chairman and host launched into a lengthy clarification the key element of which was that "we don't need your assistance, we are offering you an opportunity to say what you want to say, that's all." One American woman pointed out that "in our country it is considered polite to give guests a sense of being included." Some of the Israelis looked genuinely puzzled.

I gave what is fast becoming a stump speech, arguing, inter alia, for reforming Israel's uniquely inequitable system of judicial appointments. The last remark brought the wrath of the Establishment down upon me. The head of the Israel Bar Association declared that I was the problem and a former Justice Minister announced that he respectfully disgrees with every word I said on the topic. Afterwards, he told me that he sincerely believes that judicial appointments can't be democratized because there are only two kinds of judges: those who believe in the absolute primacy of civil rights and those who don't, and all that matters is that we be protected from the latter variety. He is a friendly and charismatic fellow with very scary ideas about democracy.

Many of these people are elitist snobs who believe that democracy can't be entrusted to the great unwashed and the people they elect.


Blogger Rebeljew said...

The whole idea of Israelis accepting a constitution is teaching colors to a blind man. The idea that the religious would compromise on power is even more ludicrous. The very concept of religious fervor is unwillingness to compromise. It is a point of pride.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Sorry to have edited my post in a way that leaves your comment a bit in the air. In any case, you overstate your case. I have found that when you get down to the level of pragmatics and avoid grandiose declarations of principle, both sides can be quite reasonable. (At least some of the people on both sides.)

9:28 AM  
Blogger Sharvul said...

Ben, perhaps you can explain some of the American mindset.

You write that in response to the native's "lengthy clarification" that they do not need the Americans' assistance, an American woman pointed out that "in our country it is considered polite to give guests a sense of being included."

I don't know how to interpret this comment. Does it mean:

a. We genuinely believe we can assist you and you should include us. Your comment about not needing assistance is completely out of order. In a proper country, like ours, this is how things work. But you live in the Middle East therefore you don't understand how these things work.

b. We don't really think we can assist you in any way. I was merely being polite. In a proper country, like ours, you would have played along with me and we would have continued to lie politely to each other for the remainder of this meeting. After all, we know there's no sense in you including us.

Which one is it?

If it's the former, I will have learnt a valuable lesson about Americans from you.

If it's the latter (which I assume it is) then my question to you is: do you prefer a genuine and frank exchange of opinions or a wishy-washy and banal conversation in which neither side truly believes what he is saying?

5:35 AM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

In other words, you are saying that stated principles are one thing, but what they will actually do, what is actual reality is quite another. Don't confuse what they say with what they actually believe in when it is time to invest.

If that is what you meant, well said indeed.

6:39 AM  

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