Passover, the Festival of Freedom, is rapidly approaching. This is a perfect time to take stock of the status of our national liberty. Have we really progressed this year from enslavement to liberty? Or has our situation deteriorated from liberty to enslavement?
Liberty is fickle. It’s like the air we breathe; you don’t feel it until you don’t have enough of it. It is very easy to rob a person of his liberty without him really noticing. And when he understands what has happened, he may no longer be able to restore his liberty. Even worse, he may not even wish to restore it.
Our liberty is generally curbed with one of two excuses: security and comfort. We deposit vast tracts of our liberty in the hands of the state, and in exchange we are supposed to receive security. The state will always – always – attempt to control more and more tracts of our liberty with the excuse that it needs to safeguard our security.
That is why a biometric bill recently passed in the Knesset. The state could provide Israelis with the same level of security with smart ID cards (which cannot be forged). Instead, Israel’s lawmakers chose a solution – building a biometric database – that no other free country dares propose to its citizens. It is a solution that does not solve any real need. And it is a solution that will undoubtedly become a severe security problem as soon as the database is hacked (and it will be hacked).
No matter. With almost no public opposition, Israel dealt a severe blow to the honor and liberty of its citizens. How did it pass? Because the powers-that-be correctly assumed that Israel’s culture of liberty is not well-developed and that its citizens would not show any real opposition to it.
But there were other, worse violations of liberty in Israel this past year. We watched in horror, for example, as former Defense Minister Ya’alon caved in to media pressure and, with the encouragement of Education Minister Bennett and Justice Minister Shaked, ordered the administrative detention and torture of tens of teenagers. We witnessed how the justice system, which is supposed to protect the liberty of citizens, violated the human rights of these teenagers, torturing them for many long weeks without offering them any real legal rights.
No ticking bomb was revealed as a result of the Duma episode arrests. (The Arab residents of the village continue to burn each other’s homes, but investigating the possibility that perhaps an Arab neighbor burned down the Dawabshe home does not sit right with those who make policy.) No significant indictment has been served – and almost all the teenagers have already been released – but nobody has had to account for the deep scar that was carved into the image of human rights in Israel.
The precedent has been set: It is fine to arrest people in Israel without trial, to torture them, to violate all their rights, and to act like a third-world dictatorship – as long as the media is with you and the agenda you are promoting resonates with the justice system. Once again, the Defense Minister correctly assumed that the voice of the champions of human rights would not be heard, simply because in Israel’s “culture” of liberty, human rights are flexible and subordinate to ideology. In Israel, liberty is strictly a matter of politics.
We still have not mentioned that in the past year, Israel’s leaders destroyed an entire Jewish village – Amona – and another nine homes in the heart of Ofra for no real reason. There were no real claimants to the property.
And then, in the public debate on the choice between the Broadcasting Authority and the Broadcasting Corporation, the most important question has not been raised: Why is the state broadcasting to its citizens? Where else in the free world is there a military station that broadcasts to the public? Apparently, Israel’s “culture” of liberty presumes that the state is supposed to determine the borders of public discourse and Big Brother is supposed to create content and control our information sources.
What is “public broadcast”? Who is “the public”? The Broadcasting Authority and the Broadcasting Corporation are “the public” just like the Institute for Democracy is the “Israeli” Institute. Somebody has decided for you that he represents you, your values, and your culture – without asking you.
Israel’s economic liberty has also suffered this year. The bank clerks have become state detectives, reporting citizens’ assets to the state.
Many chains were placed on human liberty in Israel this year. But Israeli society also enjoyed some positive liberty developments: Just before the Festival of Freedom, the Zehut party publicized its very comprehensive platform and vision. It is a detailed manifesto that illuminates Israel’s path to human liberty in all facets of life. The Zehut party will get rid of the biometric database. With Zehut, administrative detentions will be a thing of the past. Instead, there will be war captives and criminal detainees, with no gray area in the middle. With Zehut, every citizen will be able to broadcast as he pleases and the state will stay out of individuals’ lives and pockets.
Happy Festival of Freedom.