The Liberty Index
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?
In the year that has passed since Passover 5776, Israeli liberty has suffered some severe blows.
Liberty is fickle. It is like the air that 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 his really noticing it. 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 negated by one of two methods: The security excuse or the comfort excuse.
We deposit vast tracts of our liberty in the hands of the State. In exchange, we are supposed to receive security. Internal security (justice and police) and security from external forces. 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.
Perhaps the most distinct example of this is the biometric bill, which will become law in a few months. This law is an extreme example of loss of liberty by means of the security excuse. The State could provide Israelis with the same level of security with smart ID cards (which cannot be forged) and simple means of comparison between the citizen and the card he carries, with no need for a biometric database. Israel’s lawmakers chose the solution that no other free country dares propose to its citizens. It is a solution that does not solve any real need. It is a solution that will undoubtedly become a severe security problem as soon as the database will be hacked (and it will be hacked).
In this way, with almost no public opposition, Israel dealt a severe blow to the honor and liberty of its citizens. It didn’t happen because the State needed a database. It happened simply because the powers-that-be correctly assumed that Israel’s culture of liberty is not well-developed and that its citizens will not show any real opposition to the database.
The biometric database fiasco is perhaps the most widespread blow to liberty in Israel, but not necessarily the most severe. There were other, worse violations of Israel’s liberty this year.
Over the past year, we watched in horror 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 the citizen, so easily negated human rights from those 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 did not sit right with those who make the policies). No significant indictment has been served, almost all the teenagers have already been released – but nobody has 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 negate all their rights and to act like a third world dictatorship – as long as the media is with you and the agenda that 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 year that has passed, 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.
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 our content and control our information sources and transfer.
What is public broadcast? Who is the public who has chosen this broadcast? Who has decided that he 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 nullify 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 area of gray in the middle. With Zehut, every citizen will be able to broadcast as he pleases and the State will stay out of individual’s lives and pockets.
Happy Festival of Freedom and Identity,