|Written by Noam Shelef|
Government by Executing the Messenger
By Rachel Liel
Natan was fired not because anyone doubted his professionalism or his integrity. On the contrary, his research concerning migrants garnered praise and appreciation. And according to Natan, his supervisors knew and granted approval when he wrote opinion pieces unrelated to his research work. The sin Natan stands accused of is a “political slant” — laundered language veiling dissatisfaction with the criticisms implied by his research findings and with the way his personal opinions displeased those who are determined to please.
Before Natan, it was Prof. Shlomo Yitzhaki, the government’s Chief Statistician. He was fired by e-mail after he challenged the figures published by the Ministry of Finance and the privatization of the public’s savings, calling that privatization the “Great Pension Robbery.” And so with a quick e-mail, a news item and a half, and regrets from the Prime Minister over the method but not over the dismissal decision, the matter is behind us. One less subverter in our midst.
And before Yitzhaki… Adar Cohen, the supervisor of civics studies at the Ministry of Education, who had no idea he was one of those subverters till he was fired — just like Gilad Natan — for a “political slant.” Cohen had let through, heaven preserve us, material tinged with a critical hue: content that dealt with pluralistic democracy, human rights, and equality. Not on our watch. Despite the petitions and the newspaper articles, another messenger found himself sacrificed on the altar of loyalty to the regime. The next supervisor of civics studies presumably internalized the message.
The same message was recently delivered to the ambassadors who represent Israel around the world, at their meeting with National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror. Legitimate questions raised by some of the ambassadors regarding the wisdom of Israel’s political moves — including astonishment on the part of UN Ambassador Ron Prosor at the announcement of building in E1 — ran up against Amidror’s statement that “whoever disagrees with the government’s policy can resign or go into politics.” In undiplomatic language, that’s called stifling dissent.
Thus the commander’s spirit, hovering in the corridors of government, makes itself felt. The current regime does not tolerate criticism and brooks no departure from the official line whether in the context of research (Natan), of statistics (Yitzhaki), of content (Cohen), or of outreach (the ambassadors). The clear message is that everyone must speak in a single loyal and “patriotic” voice, and anyone daring to pursue their own professional truth to the limit is condemned to removal.
As if that weren’t enough, the custom of vengeance against the messenger is part of a broader and far more worrisome norm. The demand for an utterly obedient professional staff is merely part of how public discourse now suffers anti-democratic, nationalistic, and sometimes even racist erosion in the hands of extremist politicians and muffled journalists. The firing of Gilad Natan reminded us how fragile Israeli democracy is and how near the threats to it are approaching for everyone who believed they were safe.
The writer serves as the New Israel Fund's Executive Director in Israel. This article was originally published by the Israeli news site Walla.