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What’s Lacking in Israeli Politicians and Why?

Paul Eidelberg

Year after year opinion polls indicate that 80-90 percent of the public in Israel regards the Knesset, hence Israeli politicians, as “corrupt.” What is primarily meant by “corrupt” is that Knesset Members are primarily animated by personal and narrow partisan interests rather than the public interest or the common good. David Ben-Gurion said as much in his Personal Memoirs where he deplored the lack of constituency elections in Israel, where Members of the Knesset are not individually accountable to the voters. Just think of the current break-up of the Labor Party. Who does Labor’s erstwhile chairman Ehud Barak now represent by forming the new Independent Party? A cute piece of self-aggrandizement! What a mockery of Proportional Representation, Israel’s inept mode of electing MKs.

But even a well-designed mode of election such as preferential voting, which would mitigate corruption, is not a substitute for virtue. And that is primarily what is most lacking in Israel—and of course elsewhere—namely, the lack of virtue in politicians. Remember when 29 MKs hopped over to rival parties before the 1999 elections?

If the Knesset is a virtual cesspool, as many citizens think, what is the cause of this despicable state of affairs? Do MKs succumb to self-aggrandizement only upon becoming members of Israel’s parliament? Haven’t they been habituated to good behavior in their childhood and subsequently by their education in the public schools and colleges of their country?

Ponder this: Plato’s Republic is first and foremost a book on education, perhaps the greatest ever written. The purpose of education is to cultivate good character, above all the cardinal virtues of moderation, justice, courage, and wisdom. Leaving aside Israel’s religious academies, do the public schools and colleges in Israel cultivate the moral as well as the intellectual virtue?.

It was not only the Lubavitcher Rebbe that warned religious youth not to study the social sciences and humanities in the colleges and universities of America, since these academic disciplines are permeated by moral relativism, a doctrine ensconced in Israeli universities. The late professor Allan Bloom exposed this pernicious doctrine in his book The Closing of the American Mind.

This is not merely an academic issue. Relativism erodes national identity and wholehearted dedication to a nation’s cause. This makes relativism a public issue which can’t be obscured by the mantra of “academic freedom.” Given this morally neutral doctrine, there are no rational grounds for preferring a regime of liberty to one of tyranny. In fact, a publication of the American Council of Learned Societies entitled Speaking for the Humanities maintains that democracy cannot be justified as a system of government inherently superior to totalitarianism; it is simply an “ideological commitment” that the West has chosen to make.

We need to emphasize the fact that universities more or less depend on governmental support, hence on the taxes of citizens. Academics have no right to use their classrooms as platforms for propaganda­—the pedagogy of Arab academics. They have no right to subvert the primary purpose of a university, which is to foster rational discussion and civilized debate in the pursuit of truth. Allow me to repeat part of a previous report of mine on Caroline Glick’s experience at Tel Aviv University.

Ms. Glick addressed some 150 political science students at TA University where she spoke of her experience as an embedded reporter with the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division during the Iraq war. Any person not corrupted by relativism would favor, as she did, the U.S. over the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Yet the general attitude of her audience was expressed by a student who asked, “Who are you to make moral judgments?”

Now ponder this exchange between Glick and a student who spoke with a heavy Russian accent:

Student: “How can you say that democracy is better than dictatorial rule?”

Glick: “Because it is better to be free than to be a slave.”

Student: “How can you support America when the U.S. is a totalitarian state?”

Glick: “Did you learn that in Russia?”

Student: “No, here.”

Glick: “Here at Tel Aviv University?”

Student: “Yes, that is what my professors say.”

Ms. Glick spoke at five liberal—i.e. secular—Israeli universities. She learned that all are dominated by moral relativists who indoctrinate their students and ban “politically incorrect” publications. The deadly consequences are clear: “A survey carried out by the left-wing Israel Democracy Institute on Israeli attitudes toward the state [indicates that] … a mere 58% of Israelis are proud of being Israeli, whereas 97% of Americans and Poles are proud of their national identity.” Ms. Glick concludes: “Is it possible that our academic tyrants have something to do with the inability of 42% of Israelis to take pride in who they are?”

But this lack of a strong sense of national identity clearly underlies the government’s long-running policy of “territory for peace” and its ignominious desire to negotiate with Arab terrorists who have murdered and maimed some ten thousand Jews. What does this tell us about the leaders of this government? Simply this: they lack virtue.

Alas, I am beginning to feel almost like Nietzsche did back in the 1870s, when he recommended that most universities in Germany be closed down. Perhaps some of their multicultural counterparts in Israel and America should be transformed into domiciles for the homeless?