Tuesday, November 29, 2005

November 2005

Dear friends and colleagues,

This has been a fascinating month. People who appreciate and are interested in politics enjoyed every minute. Quite a treat. It seems that we will have a good fight, after some years of boredom. Sharon v. Peretz. The future of the Likud is obscure. The Likud claims the future of Sharon is bleek. Anyway, the adrenaline is pumping. Interesting times indeed.

Sharon, House of Lords for Israel, Amir Peretz, Elections, Riots in France, The Scope of Tolerance, Right-wing Extremism in Europe, Conference: Freedom of Speech In Light of Prime Minister Sharon's Disengagement Plan (Gaza First Plan)


On November 7 I wrote: Sharon's leadership is crumbling. On November 7, 2005 the Knesset plenum voted 71-41 to approve the appointments of Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as finance minister and Matan Vilnai (Labor) as science and technology minister. Olmert replaced Netanyahu after Bibi's resignation more than three months ago, and only now was confirmed as Minister of Finance.

Sharon was forced to submit Olmert's appointment separately after facing strong opposition, from his party as well as from other parties, that sabotaged his attempt to enlarge his expensive government further, far beyond necessary, by appointing two of his loyal servants - Roni Bar-On as industry, trade and employment minister, and Ze'ev Boim as immigrant absorption minister.

Knesset members from all the opposition parties voted against the appointments package, as did former finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu and seven Likud anti-disengagement rebels - MKs Naomi Blumenthal, Yuli Edelstein, Ayoub Kara, Uzi Landau, David Levy, Michael Ratzon and Ehud Yatom.Sharon was compelled to convene the Knesset meeting because Olmert's term as acting finance minister was about to expire, and the Basic Law: The Government, does not allow for the post to be extended or for someone other than the acting finance minister to be appointed without Knesset approval. Even Sharon himself cannot become acting finance minister without Knesset approval.Likud MKs Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon and Yuval Steinitz did not participate in the vote, while party rebels Michael Gorlovsky, Leah Ness and Yehiel Hazan voted for the appointments.


For the past months there were many talks about the possibility that he might resign from his party and establish a new party. I thought the likelihood for such a drastic step was small.

On November 21, 2005 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with President Moshe Katsav to request that the 16th Knesset be dissolved and early elections held. The move comes ahead of his expected announcement that he is quitting the Likud and establishing a new centrist party.The president said after the meeting that Sharon had told him he had come to the conclusion that it is impossible for him to carry on as prime minister with the current Knesset. Katsav said he would make a quick decision on Sharon's request after consulting Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, and added that an early election appears inevitable in the current political climate.Katsav said the law gave him 21 days to decide, but that he would do so quickly. Asked whether the decision would be made within days, he replied, "less than days.""Of course, I think we need to dissolve the Knesset and hold elections as soon as possible," he added. Indeed, the decision came soon enough. Katsav accepted Sharon's plea. Elections are scheduled for March 28, 2006.Dissolving the Knesset serves Sharon's interest since it would prevent the Likud from putting off elections until a later date, by which time the new party's novelty would likely wear off.Sharon's new party has attracted 14 Likud MKs, including Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Ministers Avraham Hirschson, Meir Sheetrit and Gideon Ezra. MKs Roni Bar-On, Eli Aflalo, Ruhama Avraham, Zeev Boim, Yaakov Edrey and Majali Wahabi also joined Sharon. Haim Ramon of Labour, presently Minister within the Prime Minister office, left Labour to join the new party. Dalia Itzik, of Labour, followed him.Numerous non-Likud personalities were also reportedly planning to stand with the prime minister, including former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, Professor Uriel Reichman and former minister Dan Meridor, who has expressed a desire to return to politics.Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who in long talks with Sharon regarding future cooperation, will not leave the Labor Party to join Sharon's new party, Peres' aides said. I'd say this very much depends on what Shaon, on the one hand, and Labour on the other, will offer Peres. He will be wise to join Sharon. Shimon is a doer. He could do more with Sharon than with Peretz.

Likud officials said the new party would be a "true centrist party, from every perspective: political, economic and social."Following Sharon's departure, Likud Central Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi will be the interim party chairman. Israel Radio reported he will convene the Likud Central Committee in order to vote for a new chairman.The list of leadership contenders includes MK Benjamin Netanyahu, MK Uzi Landau - the leader of the so-called Likud "rebels," Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and MK Yisrael Katz. From the Likud's perspective, Sharon's step is drastic and has the potential of a significant setback, working to the benefit of Labour. I can offer the following explanations for Sharon's decision: He was fed up with the rebels within his own party that sabotaged his leadership and tied his hands. He wanted to show them they have a lot to lose. He does too, but he is willing to take the risk. He might lose his office. He is taking quite a gamble.

Second, Sharon is seriously heading to make important decisions regarding settlements and borders. Remember: It is Gaza First, not Gaza Last. With the rebels it was very difficult for him to carry out even this first, much needed, step. He realized that his chances to make larger concessions are not high if he stays with the Likud.

Third, considering his age, this new party will stand for election only once. Like many similar parties, it is quite likely to dissolve after or during one term. For Sharon, if he will remain prime minister, this would be his farewell party. If the speculations about his plans to end (or limit) the occupation, evacuating settlements, and bring about the formation of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip are true, I wish him the best of luck and salute his courage.

Time will tell whether this decision was prudent from Sharon's point of view. It certainly opened a new ball game for Labour, and for the peace camp. Only a few months ago people saw the Likud as the party of the future, in terms of at least a decade to come. Now the picture is very different. Israeli politics is one of the most interesting and volatile political arenas in the world. Never a dull moment.

House of Lords for Israel

I have great appreciation for the British tradition and logic. Luckily, in their brief historical presence in Israel they were able to establish quite a few things that we still cherish these days. Unfortunately, they did not take care to establish a House of Lords, and we are paying the price. However, it is not late to resolve the problem.

Some people never retire. No matter how old they are; no matter what subtle hints, loud signs and bright signals they receive, they simply are incapable of retiring. I mean: they have been in a certain sphere all their lives. What else do they know to do? Moreover, because they do not wish to retire, in their old age it is difficult to adopt new habits. Human inclinations and fallacies. The fact that they block and hinder the possibilities of younger people to enter their field, and replace them means very little to them. This is, for sure, not THEIR problem. These “tycoons” are, in their own eyes, greater than life, and nobody will ever be capable to replace them anyway, so why bother? And because they worked all their lives to gain power, their ability to destroy is very high.

The sensible British recognized all that and established the House of Lords exactly for these kinds of people – those who belong to what I call "The anti-retirement Age". They need not retire. We all can continue to admire them in the House of Lords. They still gain respect, they do not fade away, they have something to do, and they are willing to move from one house to another. Some claim that the carpets in the House of Lords are nicer, the seats are more comfortable, the colours are more appealing (I subscribe) and your prefix is much more reputable. I mean, just think that Ms. Thatcher would be still around as a politician. A frightening possibility. How sensible the British are indeed. I applaud them.

And we, without a House of Lords, or Sanhedrin, or whatever name you pick for this sensible institution, are stuck with leaders in their eighties, and boyish leaders who are merely seventy years old. We did not build another house for them as we should. And we suffer the consequences. It is not too late: I call for an Israeli House of Lords Now!!

Amir Peretz

On November 9, 2005 three people competed for the Labour's leadership: Shimon Peres; Head of the Histadrut Amir Peretz, and Fuad Ben-Eliezer, a former general that has high esteem for himself. It was clear that the struggle would be between Peres and Peretz. Peres symbolizes the status quo. Peretz symbolizes change. The voting result, which came at the following dawn, followed a tightly-run race between the two opponents, which initially showed a slight lead for Peres. Peretz, a fiery union leader, wants to steer the party back to its socialist roots, pull out of the coalition and force early elections. His message has resonated with Israelis disenfranchised by government cuts in social spending and the country's growing gap between rich and poor.
Peretz's personal profile is almost identical to that of millions of Israelis who immigrated to Israel or were born here after its establishment. A son of Moroccan immigrants, who was raised in a southern development town and reached his position with great toil, and made his way to the top. It is ironic that it was the new immigrants of the 1950s and 1960s who voted for Labor and made it stronger against the right, led at the time by Menachem Begin. The Likud's rise to power in 1977 drew the low-income sectors away from the Labor Party, and it has been ambling behind Likud ever since.

Shortly after 6 A.M., amid cheering from Peretz's supporters, Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel announced that Peretz had won with 42.35 percent of the votes, while Peres was backed by 39.96 percent of voters. In third place was Benjamin Ben Eliezer, with 16.82 percent of the vote.

This month Israel commemorates ten years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Speaking near the grave of Rabin at the Mount Hertzl cemetery in Jerusalem, Peretz stressed that reaching a peace accord with the Palestinians is at the top of his political priority list. "We will not rest until we reach a permanent agreement (with the Palestinians) that would secure a safe future for our children and that would provide us with renewed hope to live in a region where people lead a life of cooperation and not, God forbid, where blood is shed from time to time," Peretz said.

On November 12, 2005 former president Bill Clinton, in an emotional address delivered meters from the site where Yitzhak Rabin was slain 10 years ago, urged some 100,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv late Saturday to take up Rabin's peacemaking and "see it through to the end."After receiving a last-minute invitation to the rally, newly-elected Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz said in his speech that "the path of Oslo is still very much alive."The Oslo peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, led by Rabin and then-deputy prime minister and foreign minister Shimon Peres, "is Israel's future and hope," said Peretz. "I have a dream that one day Israeli and Palestinian children will play together," he said, echoing Rev. Martin Luther King but shifting his context to his hometown Sderot and the neighboring Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun."Violence is gnawing at the essence of Israeli democracy," Peretz said. "Violence is not only in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, it's between us." "Had we stopped the violence in the territories, we would have stopped violence among us. The ongoing occupation in the territories is a recipe for the loss of values in Israel. We need a road map of morals… Ending the occupation and a final status agreement are synonymous with protecting human values". God knows how much I have waited and yearned to hear such true words from a prime minister candidate. I wish Peretz the best of luck, and much success. I will be happy to help him in any way I can.


See the fluidity of Israeli political life. One significant change and elections become a hot topic yet again. Only hours after his dramatic victory, newly-elected Labour Party Chairman Peretz said on November 10, 2005 that he told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that an agreed-upon date for early general elections must be determined. Peretz is not a minister, hence he has nothing to lose by stepping out the coalition government… Cynicism aside, Peretz always fought for the poor people, for labourers, for the working classes. He wishes to raise the minimum income secured by national insurance to a more decent level that actuallly will enable living with some dignity. If he calculates his moves cautiously, Labour may present a real challenge to the Likud Party. Anyway, with Peretz' win we are heading to very interesting time in Israeli politics. I feel wings of change, and this change is most welcomed. It will benefit large sectors of Israeli society and may make Labour a viable party, yet again.

Present polls show in this early stage that Peretz's win is very significant. Labour is expected to rise to 28 MKs. Sharon receives 33 seats, while Likud 13. Sharon should be happy to receive 30 seats. Time, I think, will work against him.

If this picture remains, Sharon and Labour will be able to comprise a coalition government alone, with the outside support of Meretz-Yachad, and the Arab parties. Together they could continue dividing the land and end the occupation. However, I am worried that corruption will rise. This Knesset is arguably the most corrupt Knesset in our history. Prime Minister Sharon and his son Omri are two of eleven MKs who have faced legal investigations for all kinds of misconduct and criminal activities. Omri already admitted guilt for violating the election law and the state prosecutor demands to lock him behind bars. Omri is putting himself on the fence to allow his father to walk over. Israel needs strong government, and also strong opposition. After all, who will guard the milk if you don't keep an eye on the hungry cats?

Riots in France

Beware France. Wake up Europe. I have a feeling that we've seen nothing yet. It is not only about poverty. It is the classical clash between those who believe in Live and Let Live, and those who believe in You Live Like Me. The conflict is unavoidable. The key to resolve the situation is by calling upon heads of the relevant communities to mitigate the tensions and get them involved in the social and political life, representing their communities and build bridges to replace alienation and suspicion.

The Scope of Tolerance

My newest book was published recently: The Scope of Tolerance: Studies on the Costs of Free Expression and Freedom of the Press (London: Routledge, 2006). Infra please find the publisher's blurb:

The Scope of Tolerance
One of the dangers in any political system is that the principles that underlie and characterise it may, through their application, bring about its destruction. Liberal democracy is no exception. Moreover, because democracy is relatively young phenomenon, it lacks experience in dealing with pitfalls involved in the working of the system - the “catch” of democracy.
The Scope of Tolerance is an interdisciplinary study concerned with the limits of tolerance, this “democratic catch”, and the costs of freedom of expression. Rights are costly, and someone must pay for them. We can and should ask about the justification for bearing the costs, weighing them against the harms inflicted upon society as a result of a wide scope of tolerance. While recognising that we have the need to express ourselves, we should also inquire about the justifications for tolerating the damaging speech and whether these are weighty enough.

This book combines theory and practice, examining issues of contention from philosophical, legal and media perspectives and covers such issues as:

Media invasion into one’s privacy
Offensive speech
Hate speech
Holocaust denial
Media coverage of terrorism

This book is essential reading for anyone who has research interests in political theory, extremism, media ethics, and free speech.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor (D. Phil., Oxon) is the founder and director of the Center for Democratic Studies, University of Haifa. He is the author of The Boundaries of Liberty and Tolerance (1994), The Right to Die with Dignity (2001), Speech, Media and Ethics (2001, 2005), Euthanasia in the Netherlands (2004) and two poetry books in Hebrew. In 1999-2000 he was the Fulbright-Yitzhak Rabin Professor at UCLA School of Law and Department of Communication, and in 2003-2004 he was Senior Fellow at the Center for Policy Studies, and Visiting Professor at the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Johns Hopkins University.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor in this thoughtful and sensitive study tackles the most complex and controversial of all constitutional guarantees: The free speech principle. Following the footsteps of John Stuart Mill he probes dilemmas and offers guidelines that political theorists, politicians, judges and journalists will have good reason to ponder.

Geoffrey Marshall, former Provost of Queen's College, Oxford

Wide-ranging and provocative, this work sets out arguments which are of vital importance to policy-makers as well as to academics.

Roger Eatwell and Cas Mudde
Bath University and Antwerp University

Right-wing Extremism in Europe

The latest Ethical Perspectives deals with right-wing extremism in Europe.
Articles can be accessed through: http://poj.peeters-leuven.be/content.php?url=issue&journal_code=EP&issue=2&vol=12


University of Haifa
The Center for Democratic Research

Conference on
Freedom of Speech In Light of Prime Minister Sharon's Disengagement Plan (Gaza First Plan)

Tuesday, 20 December 2005
The Hecht Auditorium, University of Haifa

9:00-9:30 Gathering
9:30-9:50 Chairperson: Professor Eli Salzberger, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Haifa; Research Fellow, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Director, Center for Democratic Research
Professor Majid Al-Haj, Dean of Research
Professor Arye Rattner, Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences

9:50-11:00 First Session

Chairperson and Respondent: Professor Eli Salzberger, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Haifa; Research Fellow, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa

Opening Lecture
Attorney General, Mr. Eran Shendar
"Law Enforcement, Freedom of Expression, and its Place in the Realm of Ideological Crimes during the Disengagement Period"

11:00-12:30 Second Session

Chairperson and Respondent: Professor Gideon Fishman, Department of Sociology and Anthropology; Research Fellow, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa

His Excellency Ambassador (ret.) Gad Yaakobi; Member, Board of Governors, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
"Speech Responsibility and Normative Behavior in Israeli Democracy"

Professor Naomi Chazan, Truman Institute, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Member, Board of Governors, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
"Freedom of Expression and the Limits of Public Debate: What Was Not Discussed During the Gaza Disengagement"

Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Director, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
“Political Extremism, Hate Speech and Incitement: 1993-1995, 2003-2005”

12:30-14:00 Lunch Break

14:00-15:30 Third Session

Chairperson and Respondent: Professor Arye Rattner, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences; Research Fellow, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa

Justice, Israel Supreme Court (ret.) Dalia Dorner; Member, Board of Governors, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
"Can Political Expression Be Considered A Criminal Offence?"

Professor Asa Kasher, IDF College of National Defense; Member, Board of Governors, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
“Our Hands Didn’t Shed This Blood?”

Professor Yedidia Stern, Faculty of Law, Bar-Ilan University; Member, Board of Governors, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
"Freedom of Expression and Halachic Adjudication in State Matters"

Coffee Break

16:00-17:30 Fourth Session

Chairperson and Respondent: Professor Menachem Kellner, Department of Jewish Thought; Research Fellow, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa

Deputy President, Israel Supreme Court (ret.) Eliahu Mazza
“The Probability that Words Can Kill”

Professor Ariel Bendor, Dean of Students; Research Fellow, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
"Is It Necessary to Mete Out Justice with Those Who Broke the Disengagement Law?"

Attorney Haim Shibi, Yedioth Ahronoth
"The Media Battle of the Orange Dissidents in the Knesset"

17:30-18:45 Round Table

Chair and Discussant: Attorney Moshe Gorali, Maariv

Justice, Israel Supreme Court (ret.) Dalia Dorner; Member, Board of Governors, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Director, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
Professor Asa Kasher, IDF College of National Defense; Member, Board of Governors, Center for Democratic Research, University of Haifa
Deputy President, Israel Supreme Court (ret.) Eliahu Mazza

You're all invited.

With my very best wishes,


My last communications are available on http://almagor.blogspot.com
Earlier posts at my home page: http://lib-stu.haifa.ac.il/staff/rcohen-Almagor
Books archived at http://almagor.fetchauthor.info/
Center for Democratic Studies http://hcc.haifa.ac.il/~rca/center/