Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Iyar 5761 - May 2, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Afraid of Burg

by E. Rauchberger

Knesset chairman Avraham Burg has the heads of the Labor Party scared. According to all of the forecasts, Avraham Burg will win the primary elections scheduled to be held in another four months, making him the party's candidate for prime minister. This has all of the other candidates and those who see themselves as potential candidates--Haim Ramon, Shlomo Ben Ami and Binyamin Ben Eliezer-- understandably anxious, and keeps them awake at night.

Shimon Peres also has concerns of his own about Burg. He is worried that Burg will work to dismantle the unity government, which would put him back on the bench with the bored opposition MKs, and he had enough of that during Barak's government, regardless of his title then, Minister of Regional Cooperation. The current situation is ideal from Peres' perspective. Although he does not hold an official title like Labor Party Chairman or Acting Labor Party Chairman, in practice Peres is running the party. His word goes. He is in the most senior government position of any Labor Party member and shows it the way. So what does he need Burg barging in for?

Thus Peres and his supporters have been trying to push forward an initiative to postpone the primaries for another 12 to 18 months, as close as possible to the next prime ministerial elections.

Haim Ramon and Shlomo Ami, who have not yet announced their intentions of running for prime minister (and it does not appear that they will do so in the near future, though they are both known to harbor such ambitions), were only too happy to join in on this initiative. Today they cannot contend with Burg's popularity, and time is their most important commodity. By the time another year or a year and a half has gone by, Burg will have stepped aside to make room for someone else, will have run out of steam or will have made a few mistakes and their low popularity rating will begin to climb.

Ben Ami and Ramon are the Labor Party's most promising figures. The two have long been marked as prime minister material, certainly more than Burg, but reality has slapped them in the face. Ben Ami, who served as Defense Minister during the incidents in the Arab sector carries the scars of that post. He has also been stuck with the blame for the policy failures that were set in motion at the Camp David Conference.

Haim Ramon is a whole different story. Ehud Barak is primarily responsible for his disappearance from the limelight. He pressed a minor portfolio on him, the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, preventing him from participating in important meetings and decision-making. Even after Israel B'aliya's resignation, when Ramon was given the interior portfolio, he didn't take advantage of the opportunity to bring up his popularity rating. Ramon has now struck rock bottom politically. From this point he can only go up, and it is this ascent that Ramon is anticipating. He is waiting for the right time to return to the center ring, primed and at his peak. But in order for this to happen, he cannot allow Burg to make off with the bone in the meantime.

Burg, of course, shows no concern for Ramon and Ben Ami's problems. Just the opposite: he is enjoying every moment of their anxiety over the prospect of running against him, and plans to do everything in his power to ensure that the primaries are not postponed. Burg and his supporters are sparing no effort to secure the title of Labor Party Chairman and candidate for prime minister, in addition to his role as Knesset Chairman.

Where Have All the Mayors Gone?

A few weeks ago, before all of the court proceedings, former interior minister Avigdor Kahalani, who was brought to trial for allegedly providing illegal assistance to former Ma'ariv editor, Ofer Nimrodi--currently standing trial on serious criminal charges--was acquitted.

At the Jerusalem Magistrate Court another former minister is also being held trial--none other than former Shas chairman, Arye Deri, in what has come to be known as "the public case."

The case consists of five indictments for monetary transactions in Be'er Sheva, Jerusalem, Rechasim, Zichron Yaakov and Netanya. The State of Israel is accusing Deri of exploiting his power and status during his service as director general and interior minister in order to pressure the mayors and local council heads of these cities and towns to transfer funds to Torah institutions.

Two weeks ago Arye Deri took the witness stand for several days of cross-examination by the prosecution. It was not easy to think back 13, 14, 15 and even 16 years ago. Few people can remember what took place two or three years ago, and here he was asked to recreate scenes from 15 years back. But that's the name of the game: memory.

For dozens of hours over the course of six days, Arye Deri sat in the witness box and replied to cross-examination. On the third day of questioning, it seemed as if the judges' patience was waning. "Your questions are not focused," they told the prosecuting attorney. "Your cross-examination is not bringing us anywhere."

Later one of the judges prevented the prosecutor from calling the defendant to the stand to testify, half of which was testimony already given by someone else. "That won't get by in my court," one of the judges fired at the prosecutor.

Based on the way the trial was run during those sessions, it seems likely that this trial will conclude like the Kahalani trial, and like the trials of Ne'eman, Rafael Eitan, Ehud Olmert, Avi Yechezkel, Meir Shetreet and a long list of other public figures and politicians who were brought to trial by the State of Israel but were eventually acquitted.

In those days, Deri revised the "slips of paper method," which was in practice before his arrival at the ministry. This method is well-remembered all the way back to the days of Ben Gurion and Pinchas Sapir, who used slips of paper for everything. Based on what was written down on those notes public funds were allocated and no one was charged with any offenses or brought to trial.

Deri stopped the use of stray slips of paper and began recording allocations in an orderly manner visible to the public. True, these lists were filled with Torah institutions, religious schools, botei knesses and mikvas in nearly each and every city and town, but so what? Would continued discrimination have been a better option? Or perhaps Deri's mistake was in abandoning the slips of paper method. Perhaps he should have continued listing allocations according to this age-old practice, but to make sure to write down totally different names, listing institutions and organizations belonging to entirely different sectors. Perhaps then he would have been spared this trial--which comes after all of his energy has already been spent-outright.

The outcome of the trial remains unknown. It could conclude with an acquittal as many figures, including members of the prosecution team, believe will happen, but it could also produce exactly the opposite results. Be what may, the trial is being carried out on the lowest level, the Magistrate Court, and regardless of the outcome, there is a good chance that this saga will continue for a long time to come, with a District Court appeal, and perhaps even a High Court appeal.

Media Selectiveness

It goes without saying that the media is giving the trial extensive coverage. Not as much as the previous trial, when entire pages and bold headlines and sometimes even lead headlines were dedicated to the case, but there is definitely considerable news coverage on a daily basis.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, the coverage seems to be highly selective and unconscionably one-sided. Those who feed off of the media, whether it be electronic or written journalism, are struck by the extent to which the trial is clearly stacked against Deri. The judges are constantly reprimanding him and directing tough questions at him as if a conviction is already certain.

The reality is just the opposite. The judges have been rebuking the prosecution on a daily basis, yet this fact fails to make the news. Two weeks ago, for instance, during a six- or seven-hour session, the judges did not stop reprimanding, cautioning and criticizing the prosecution. Then, during one of the breaks, when the journalists gathered together in the hall to sum up what had taken place thus far, not one of them thought to mention that the main story is essentially the unceasing remarks directed at the prosecution by all three of the judges.

An attempt on the part of a bystander to direct their attention to the real story of the day along with the suggestion that perhaps they are mistaken in looking for the main story elsewhere was received with scorn and contempt.

During that day's evening session, the judges issued a warning to Deri and posed a slightly embarrassing question. These journalists of repute did not find room in the articles for the slightest mention of the judges' remarks to the prosecution repeated to the point of admonition.

During last Monday's proceedings, Deri expressed his disapproval of the newspaper reporting. Surprisingly, one of the judges, Haim Lachuvitzky, joined him saying that he is disgruntled over the media coverage as well. This comment, of course, did not make the news either.

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