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Columnist Says Israel and Its American Supporters Should Support Rule of Law

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 2001

All too often Israeli actions which are in violation of law and of hum an rights are defended within Israel as necessary for "national security" and are endorsed without question by many American Jewish groups, argues columnist Marshall Breger in Moment (August, 2001).  

Mr. Breger, who is a professor of law at The Catholic University of America, notes that, "For too long, we American Jews have perpetuated the myth that Israel's political system is much like our own democratic one. And although this theory is partially misguided, there is in fact some truth to it. Take, for instance, the February elections in Israel—in which a new prime minister was chosen with free and fair balloting—a democratic technique pretty much unique in the Middle East...But that said...many aspects of the Israeli political system...differ from the American system...Israelis, more than Americans, are prone to justifying their political stances with `national security' concerns."  

In the U.S., Breger points out, "justifying executive action on the basis of `national security' would simply be the opening gambit. Skeptics would ask for proof. The person who deploys a national security justification would have the burden of persuasion. In Israel, by contrast, `national security' is a readily accepted explanation for any government action...As a result, the Israeli legal system allows administrative detention (a mechanism of punishment used most often in apartheid South Africa), `hostage-taking' of noncombatants, and interrogation methods classified as torture in international treaties...Israel's founders were mainly Eastern European socialists for whom the rule of law was subordinate to the needs of mamlichut (statebuilding). The old joke that the citizen was there to serve the government had more than a little truth to it."  

Those in Israel who support a Westernstyle legal system are often perceived, Breger writes, "as a threat to both Judaism and Zionism." Court decisions that support the equal treatment of Arabs "they say are universalist and anti-Zionist."  

Breger concludes: "Israel can't justify disregard for the rule of law because it is located in a `rough neighborhood.' Nor is it sufficient to excuse special benefits for one's own interest group on grounds that `everyone is doing it.' It is vital that the ruleoflaw tradition develop and enter the heart of Israeli society. The challenge is to rescue the concept from becoming a tool for partisan bickering. The tragedy is that Israelis are failing to do so."  

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