Thursday April 24, 2014
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Dan Margalit

The inconvenient truth

The shocking, eye-popping segment that aired on Ilana Dayan's acclaimed investigative television newsmagazine "Uvda" ("Fact"), which revealed how doctors charge exorbitant medical fees to wealthy foreigners who come here for treatment, is just the latest in a series of problematic episodes that reflects poorly on our elites.

Instead of coming clean and admitting to the public that doctors are exacting large sums from the well-to-do, the leaders of our health system allow them to negotiate the prices of surgery as if they were merchants in a bazaar. Why is that? Because the health establishment is afraid to speak the truth to the public. It is afraid to tell the public that these doctors are the reason that we have a medical tourism industry at all in this country.

This is just another example that illustrates the absence of leadership willing to stand up and acknowledge a painful reality without engaging in intrigue, back-stabbing, underhanded deals and innuendo.

Recently, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas brazenly rejected a package of security arrangements offered to him by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as part of a final-status deal with Israel. This is an instance in which the government knows that if it was given some leeway by the settler leaders in the form of approval for a temporary freeze in construction, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni would be able to persuade many in the international community that the Palestinians are the ones who do not wish to achieve a genuine peace, and the specter of international boycotts against Israel would recede somewhat.

They could have gone to the wonderful people of Yitzhar and Ofra, some of whom would have understood and accepted the situation if they were dealing with a determined, credible and unwavering leadership. While there would be a dispute, one would need a great deal of fortitude to stand up to the settlers and tell them that the wisest thing to do is to look at the big picture even if it means sacrificing short-term gains.

This applies to all walks of life. In the religious Zionist establishment, there are rabbis who know that Rabbi Motti Elon -- convicted in court of indecent acts against a minor -- had sinned. But they do not dare stand up to their constituents and tell them the unvarnished truth. Instead, they defend him.

In the educational sector, we need a credible, determined leadership that will stand up and tell the teachers that they have had enough of the frequent absences from class. They should also tell the psychologists in school that they are handing out exemptions to students who are claiming in increasing numbers that they suffer from learning disabilities and mental health problems, setting a bad example for our youth. Housing,welfare, transportation -- this kind of brave honesty is needed in all of these areas.

Whatever the issue may be, it needs to be dealt with seriously and cautiously. After a decision is made, however, it needs to be executed with determination. If the government believes that after carefully weighing the alternatives the best option is to purchase another Iron Dome battery, it needs to tell the public and to stand behind the decision. That will only enhance its authority rather than weaken it.

Making a bad decision is inviting trouble. But making no decision is inviting deeper trouble. The see-no-evil approach as demonstrated by hospital management is scandalous. The health establishment, however, is not alone. The proposals that have not been acted upon by the government, the Knesset, the local municipalities and hospitals are all cut from the same cloth, and are available in spades.

A proper, Zionist response

A new book authored by Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, "My Promised Land," is climbing the New York Times best-seller list. It is a riveting, breathtaking account that serves as an appropriate liberal-secular rejoinder to the slanderous and libelous anti-Zionist crowd in the West. At a time when the Iranians arm themselves with nuclear weapons and the haters of Zion in American academia sharpen their swords of boycott against the Jewish state, Shavit's book takes on these foes in a very difficult intellectual atmosphere in a way that the biblical Cush and God's covenant with Abraham simply cannot. One can only hope that the translation into Hebrew doesn't detract from the potency of the arguments, which speak directly to the modern reader.

Shavit had two great-grandfathers whose names are inextricably linked to the history of Zionism. The first was the legendary doctor Hillel Yaffe, and the other was Herbert Bentwich, sent as an emissary to pre-state Israel by Theodor Herzl to tour the land. Unlike the biblical spies, however, Bentwich and his colleagues did not report their observations to the First Zionist Congress in 1897. Bentwich and Yaffe are Shavit's forebears, and they are the anchors of a book that spans from the late 19th century all the way to present-day issues like the 1993 Oslo Accords and the Iranian nuclear question. From a historical standpoint, it is worth considering two points.

Firstly, Bentwich saw a land devoid of inhabitants. Israel Zangwill, who went from being a Zionist to a territorialist -- meaning he could not care less where a Jewish state was built -- pointed out that there were Arabs living in the country at the time. History appears to have proved him right. But not in real time.

Upon their arrival to the land, they found a sparsely populated subdistrict of the Ottoman Empire. The local Arabs never pressed nationalist claims nor did they demand rights of self-determination. There were a negligible component on the Ottoman landscape, a region of Greater Syria. The initial wave of Zionist settlement took place in a country that was nearly empty in wide swaths. From a practical standpoint, there indeed was a void -- at least on the map.

Secondly, the IDF never massacred Arabs who hid in the mosque in Lod. The army fired live rounds at homes from where Arabs were shooting at it. A comprehensive study was done by academic researchers Avraham Sela, Alon Kadish, and Arnon Golan. It can be found in the October 2005 edition of the Middle East Journal. How did the Arabs manage to get their version of events to be accepted as the truth?

The War of Independence, which was launched by the Arabs in 1947 with the expressed goal of "throwing the Jews into the sea," was the backdrop to two massacres. There was the indiscriminate killing of villagers in Deir Yassin near Jerusalem at the hands of Irgun and Lehi gunmen; and there was the remorseless butchering of Jews in the settlement of Kfar Etzion. In other instances, there was shooting that was either somewhat justified or unjustified but which occurred in the heat of battle, and not on a mass scale.

I have a few disagreements with some of Shavit's conclusions, but in the U.S., his book serves as an advocate of -- and guide to -- Zionism for the liberals and left-wingers who are left to fend off American academics that champion a boycott of the Jewish state.

The gadflies

My colleague Boaz Bismuth and Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer star Eran Zahavi fell victim this week to comments that border on verbal terrorism.

After the latter scored a goal on a penalty kick during his team's derby match against Hapoel Tel Aviv, he exulted and rejoiced in front of the opposing team's supporters. Frankly, as an overjoyed fan of Maccabi, I did not see a reason for the excess celebration. After all, scoring a goal on a penalty kick is not such an extraordinary feat.

From that moment, the supporters in red did not cease cursing Zahavi in words that are not fit to print in a family newspaper. They want him never to forget that he came up through Hapoel's system. What do these fans expect of Zahavi? That he will not put all of his efforts into helping his current team? Do they expect him not to show happiness over his team's victory? The fans in red ought to remember that we, too, have keyboards, Facebook and Twitter, and we know how to use them just like they do. They will fail in their efforts to derail Maccabi's star.

The Bismuth case is far more worrisome. The financial daily Globes and the tabloid Yedioth Aharonoth criticized Bismuth for considering a position offered to him by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deal with illegal migrants from Africa. Despite the fact that Bismuth turned down the offer, Yedioth views him as guilty.

Two dimensions are worth exploring here. Journalists often take breaks from their jobs to assume public service positions in the government or in some other entity like the Jewish Agency. As Haaretz correspondent in Washington, I met two very senior figures -- William Beecher and Bernard Kalb -- who went to work for their government. Upon returning to the press, they did not miss one beat.

Journalists from my generation also took similar turns -- men like Eitan Haber, and two deputy editors from Haaretz, Mati Golan and Gideon Samet. They were the same journalists after their return as they were before. Bismuth was merely the latest to be offered a similar path, not unlike many columnists at Yedioth.

One can argue that he was the target of criticism due to the nature of the position he was offered -- dealing with African infiltrators. As someone who believes that under the present circumstances it is time to reduce the number of African migrants in Israel, I have no doubt that the government is entitled to demand that those who sneak across the border (before the fence was built) return to their countries. They are not persecuted refugees.

This is a legitimate position that is subject to argument. So why the furious ganging-up on Bismuth? It is not because he was offered a chance to enter government. Rather, it is because he chose to stay at Israel Hayom.

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