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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Marketing the Truth

Yossi Sarid is one of the grand old men of the Israeli Left.  On August 9th 2012 he wrote an article for the much respected and frequently maligned Haaretz Newspaper, “Marketing the Truth has never been easy for Israel’s left.” It was both condescending and misleading.

The truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There are few absolutes in life and even fewer in politics (Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789 “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes".)  For instance, the taking of a life cannot be undone and therefore it is an absolute. But blood money has frequently been used to mitigate responsibility and to create layers within law that protect special interest groups. Blood money was first documented in the Code of Hammurabi some 3,800 years ago. The principle of reciprocity was class specific.  In the Hebrew bible (Leviticus) justice is applied across all social boundaries therefore, radically, slave and nobleman were equal before the law (“You are to have one law for the alien and the citizen” Leviticus 24: 19-22).

In the Dark Ages of Europe a payment to the grief-stricken family of the victim could both ameliorate and forgive guilt.  It was abolition of this clause in Western Law that helped us crawl out of the Sewers of the Dark Ages.  It is still part of the law in some nations. Its inherent potential for institutional inequality is well documented through its embrace in Sharia Law.

Nevertheless, in the Western World today, the taking of a life can be exonerated if it is defined as self-defence while the planned and deliberate taking of a life is defined as murder but may be extenuated under certain conditions. In between these poles a drunk driver who kills is treated by society as having committed the lesser offence of manslaughter.  So the truth is often absolute and conditional at the same moment according to the interpretation placed on it by the individual and by society.

The brutal killing of Dutch film producer Theo van Gogh in 2004 by a Muslim extremist was classified by the Dutch court as murder while at least 600 million Muslims throughout the world would view this taking of a human life as warranted by the act of incitement (perceived or actual) against Islam.

In his article, Yossi Sarid continues that “The left is often perceived as being elitist and condescending, but that’s not necessarily our fault”. Excuse me Yossi but politics is about action and perception. In politics nothing can excuse a failure to engage the public. Ideals are without value if we are powerless to exercise them and unless it is part of an effective opposition the party excluded from power is taking money from the public under political pretence.  Perhaps this is the reason Mr Sarid is a writer but no longer a member of parliament.

I can only speak from personal experience.  For a brief time I worked in a factory making car batteries. I complained to the Union Representative that we, the workers, were breathing in toxic fumes and yet we had no protective masks.  I was verbally reprimanded by the union rep who explained to me that I should have been grateful for the job I had.  The second anecdotal example occurred at a ceremony where senior Labour party officials, observed with patient benevolence the idealistic next generation enthusiastically appearing before them.  With na├»ve exuberance the group explained their future plans while one of these government officials stated, with sterile indifference, that their future was already decided for them.  That is the elitist approach. When government knows best, top down decrees are imposed for the supposed 'good' of all.

During the early part of the 20th Century Left and Right was hegemonic and authoritarian.  Israeli politics developed during this period and has not moved beyond it. This is the reason that protest movements are so common and why splinter parties are a feature of the Israeli political landscape.  It is the only means by which the people may express their disapproval of the establishment.  It is also the greatest failure of Israel’s political system that people like Yossi Sarid are incapable of understanding this fundamental issue of governance.  A direct consequence of this failure is that ambiguity is institutionalised. It is the reason that Israel’s Supreme Court is so busy compared with other Western Courts. In an article in Stratfor (an Intelligence briefing service) dated 5th April 2012 it is stated that “Government bureaucracies do not deal well with ambiguity.” Unfortunately for Israel it energises interested parties to abuse the law and neglect whole groups within society. Philosophers such as Noam Chomsky say that “Resistance is feasible even for those who are not heroes by nature, for those who fear the consequences and detest the reality of the attempt to impose (American) hegemony.” We can apply this to any group that is sufficiently motivated to object strongly to any ideal or law with which they disagree. It may be the Revolutionaries justification for terror but is equally applied by special interest groups contemptuous of both law and society.

If, to quote Sarid (in the same article) “The music we produce isn’t pleasant to the terrified ear” then the failure is the failure of the likes of Sarid and Co.  The politics of betrayal is far too often fed by a lack of empathy, an intellectual inability to internalise the lessons of the past and an inability to communicate at the same level of discourse of the target audience.

Blaming it on the audience is vulgar and it is shameful.

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