The PC Assault on Israel

In November, 1994, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the subject of affirmative action held at Tel Aviv University, sponsored by the Department of Policy Studies. Attendance at the afternoon seminar was mandatory for students in the department. I presumed that the discussion was to be high-level and academic, and that my role - as the only economist participating - would be to

Prof. Steven Plaut,

In late February, 1995, Professor Nahum Rakover, the Assistant Attorney General in the Israeli Ministry of Justice, was invited to testify in front of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee. For Rakover, this was not an unusual occurrence. Professor Rakover is an acknowledged expert on Jewish Rabbinic Law, some would say the expert in Israel. Since Israel's law system is a mix of Anglo-Saxon Common Law and Halacha, such testimony is frequently invited for legislative hearings, in particular those related to family law, marriage and divorce.

This time, however, Rakover was invited to testify on a recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court regarding homosexuals. The case involved an appeal by a homosexual El Al steward. El Al stewards and stewardesses are entitled to a free spouse ticket once a year, and the gay steward had been denied the right to a ticket for his gay partner. He sued El Al and the Supreme Court found in his favor, kicking off a rigorous debate in Israel on legal rights for homosexuals.

Rakover was asked to the Knesset Committee to describe the Halachic position on homosexual "marriage" and rights. His answer triggered a furious political storm. Rakover explained that, from the point of view of Halacha, there was no moral difference between homosexuality and bestiality, and that both are regarded as abominations. The comments by Rakover immediately produced a political scandal and media festivity. Rakover was denounced by Knesset Members and media commentators.

He was defended by the Knesset Members of the religious parties. These wondered what all the commotion was about, since Rakover had merely done his job. After all, he had been asked what the Halachic sources had to say about the subject and had answered accordingly; he had not even stated his own views. One can, of course, agree or disagree with the Halachic view of homosexuality, but the fact of its existence is incontrovertible. Rakover himself argued that had he failed to state the Halachic view accurately, he should have to be fired for not doing the job for which he was hired.

The matter did not stop there. Rakover immediately became the target of a disciplinary and censuring procedure initiated by the head of the Israeli civil service, doubtless under pressure to do so by the pro-gay lobby of Knesset members led by Yael Dayan of the Labor Party, daughter of Moshe Dayan. The persecution of Rakover was applauded by much of the Left. Professor Asa Kasher, Israel's ubiquitous philosopher-at-large and pop ethicist, denounced Rakover from the op-ed pages and demanded that Rakover resign or be fired from his position for the felony of "insensitivity".

Had all this occurred in the United States of the 1990s, no one would be surprised. The political correctness bullies have long made the expressing of unfashionable opinions on homosexuality a forbidden and hazardous undertaking in the media and on most campuses. A statement like Rakover's on many a US campus would violate "speech codes" and could result in disciplinary actions, denial of tenure, or failed promotions for the speaker. On some campuses, it might lead to a violent assault on the speaker. In Israel, however, many found the attempt to criminalize unfashionable opinion surprising. But the persecution of Rakover was the tip of a growing invasion of politically correct intolerance into Israel, doubtless inspired by the spread of the disease in other countries.

The focus of the politically correct bullies is, in part, the same set of issues as those in vogue on Western campuses: radical feminism, homosexual rights, the "green" movement. In other cases, the focus is the set of domestic political issues that are the nucleus of political debate in Israel, and particularly the Palestinian issues.

All this was unexpected in Israel for the simple reason that Israel had already outgrown its own episode of politically correct intolerance, which had been prevalent before and after the creation of the State, and which had fallen into extreme disrepute. The term "politically correct" was of course first coined in America tongue-in-cheek by its opponents to mock the insistence of the Liberal-Left that people toe the ideological line. The original notion of "politically correct" enforcement was literal and not sarcastic, developed by the doctrine-setters of the Communist Party and similar groups.

From the 1920s, Israel had seen the establishment of its own "politically-correct" party line by the predominant MAPAI party (the predecessor of the Labor Party), which dominated political life in Israel from that time until 1977. MAPAI had used its muscle to deny "dissenters" jobs and advancement from the 1920s onwards. Even after Israel was established, for about 20 years, those without the proper Party card or recommendation from MAPAI often found themselves economically excommunicated and unable to work in a wide variety of positions. But over time the political hegemony of MAPAI had broken down, and with it, the "politically correct" intolerance of opinion inconsistent with the Party line. Today, the list of PC activist groups within Israel is indistinguishable from the list of recipients of funds from the Left-ish New Israel Fund and similar groups.

Until Rakover's faux pas, gay issues had attracted relatively little public attention in Israel. The gay militant movement tended to keep a low profile, and indeed called itself the Movement to Protect Privacy Rights, loosely associated with Meretz. (In Hebrew the term for "Privacy Rights" is the same as "Individual Rights".) Possibly, the low profile might be explained by the relative absence in Israel of anti-gay violence and harassment by the police, which triggered gay militancy elsewhere. Indeed, a series of murders of homosexuals did take place (the last one two doors down from me in Haifa), but these were all apparently perpetrated by other homosexuals. (An interesting question is: how much anti-gay violence in other nations is also really perpetrated by gays? A question the Politically Correct bullies would probably prevent from ever being asked.)

The main achievement to date in Israel of pro-gay lobbying was the funding of an expensive anti-AIDS publicity campaign, launched by the Ministry of Health under Haim Ramon in the 1990s. This campaign was based on the disinformative assertion that AIDS is primarily a heterosexual disease and that all Israeli heterosexuals were at risk unless they used condoms. Billboards in Israel were bedecked with monstrous condom posters, condoms were rolled down bananas on TV, and condomats were installed throughout the country, including in the Knesset bathrooms, at least in the men's rooms there (the only ones I have visited). The anti-AIDS campaign used up the lion's share of the public health budget for a year; this, despite the fact that in Israel, every day, the number of cancer deaths or the number of heart-disease deaths is greater than a year's worth of AIDS deaths. All this in a country where public health campaigns against smoking have been rare and far between.

The more important arena of PC battle has been the radical feminist agenda, and in particular the introduction of affirmative action quotas for women. Until recently, moderate feminism seemed to be making quite a bit of progress in Israel. An equal opportunity law had been passed, and any woman unfairly denied a job or promotion could sue. Women had long been entering lots of non-traditional fields, and my business administration classes seem to have a small feminine majority. 53% of college students in Israel are women. Women participate at high rates in the labor force, and indeed are encouraged to do so by receiving pension benefits that are in effect twice those of men. Every university has established "Women's Studies", and - as abroad - these sometimes produce serious scholarship, but often produce anti-academic "advocacy scholarship". Battered women's shelters have multiplied and family violence prevention has been receiving a sympathetic hearing throughout most of society.

While women may be "under-represented" in the Knesset, in the country that produced a Golda Meir, no one can contend that the obstacles to women in politics are insurmountable. But Israeli feminism is undergoing change, and - like in the feminist movements abroad - the moderate activism for equality and justice is being crowded out by gynocentric radicals, Leftist extremists, and fanatic quota-warriors battling against heterogeneity. Just as the United States is preparing to do away - at long last - with all reverse discrimination quotas, Israel has been preparing to establish them across the board. A few months after the Rabin government took power, the first quota law was passed, requiring that on the Boards of Directors of public-sector corporations (a large chunk of the economy), women alone must be appointed until a 40% representation for women is reached. This, supposedly, was to "compensate" women as a group for past discrimination in such appointments.

A survey of women directors by the periodical Net-Plus later found that the bulk of these women did not believe there exists any sex discrimination at all in the appointment of directors, and in any case, the large majority of Israeli women directors strongly oppose affirmative action quotas. That law lay dormant for over a year, until the government sought to appoint three new directors to the Ports Authority and the Haifa Refineries, all men. At that point the Israel Women's Caucus, the main militant feminist group, stepped in. The Caucus was set up by feminist Professor Alice Shalvi, but contains a strong contingent of anti-Israel members of the Israeli Communist Party (Hadash), and many of the Caucus' leaders had been active with Women in Black, one of the most ferocious groups of Israel-bashers and pro-terror Palestinian romanticizers.

The Caucus' lawyers filed a petition with the Supreme Court demanding that the appointments be overturned. The Caucus was unable to prove, and was never even asked to try to prove, that the relatively small number of women directors on the boards of these agencies had anything whatsoever to do with discrimination. The Caucus reps were also unable to show that any women had ever been unfairly passed over in these or any other directorship appointments. Moreover, the Caucus was unable to prove - indeed was never asked to show - that there existed a single woman candidate anywhere in Israel whose qualifications were similar or even remotely approached those of the three gentlemen candidates. Finally, no one alleged - let alone proved - that the three male candidates that were to be punished and disqualified had ever in their lives discriminated against any living organism.

The Supreme Court judges split two-to-one in favor of the petition by the Women's Caucus. The dissenting judge (Kedmi) objected that the ruling in effect corrected injustice through committing more injustice and would deny the three male candidates their rights, including due process. The majority opinion was written by Supreme Court Justice Eliahu Matsa, who included a long-winded rendition of his own sociological and economic view of the world, pontificating about the operations of labor markets and the role of discrimination (Israelis are now breathlessly awaiting to hear his views on quantum physics and neurosurgery in future Supreme Court rulings). Emboldened by this "victory", the Women's Caucus and their fellow-travelers have since been promoting an idea to set aside 40% of all Knesset seats for women, a proposal greeted with ridicule almost everywhere outside of Meretz. Naomi Blumenthal, a Knesset member from the Likud, later proposed reserving a quarter of all public parking places in Israel for women.

The periodic proposals for gender quotas in Israel have fascinating implications. For example, since school-teachers are predominantly women, such quotas would mean that all hiring of women teachers would be halted until the proportion of male teachers reached 40%. But since there are few qualified men seeking such jobs, the unqualified would have to be recruited. Thus, achieving a sexual "balance" in the schools would mean completely destroying the quality of teaching there. And not just in the public schools. It turns out that in medical schools (all Israeli universities are public-sector), the portion of women among Jewish students studying for their MD degrees is about two thirds. If paramedical academic professions (not MD's) are included, the men all but disappear. So to "socially engineer" the profession and boost the portion of men to the 40% minimum, Israeli medicine would have to be gutted as well and under-qualified men turned into MDs. The list could, of course, go on and on.

The feminists regard any deviation from a 50% representation of each sex in any profession to be proof of "discrimination". It is, in fact, nothing more than proof of heterogeneity. But that is precisely what the radical feminists are out to fight. Radical feminists are not the least interested in equality; they only want homogeneity. The feminists in Israel have come up with precisely zero evidence to prove that the under-representation of Israeli women in corporate boards of directors, in engineering, certain public sector jobs, university professorships, or in politics has anything whatsoever to do with discrimination. They do have everything to do with heterogeneity.

If deviation from 50% sexual representation is "unnatural" in all things, then what are we to make of the gross over-representation of men in Israeli prisons? Is this evidence of discrimination by judges against Israeli men? As in other countries, the Israeli radical feminists like to "prove" that discrimination exists by bandying about statistics showing that women on average earn only X% of the salary of men. When asked to prove that this "gap" derives from discrimination, the feminists get angry and shrill and read off the numbers a second time, louder. The same "proof" could be used to demonstrate that, in the United States, there exists abominable discrimination against Christians and against non-Asians, or that all Moslem countries (including Iran) discriminate intolerably against Moslems.

PC intolerance for heterodox opinion is uniting with the gyno-quota affirmative action movement. In November, 1994, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the subject of affirmative action held at Tel Aviv University, sponsored by the Department of Policy Studies. Attendance at the afternoon seminar was mandatory for students in the department. I presumed that the discussion was to be high-level and academic, and that my role - as the only economist participating - would be to present the viewpoint of economics, which is quite hostile to affirmative action.

Upon arrival, I quickly realized that the "debate" was to consist of over two hours of one-sided indoctrination. The panel consisted of eight academics and radical feminists, every single one of whom considered affirmative action quotas the best thing since sliced bread. Absolutely no mention was made of anything that might be negative about reverse discrimination quotas - no damages from lowered standards, no stigmatizing of the "beneficiaries" of affirmative action, no injustice in discriminating against members of unfavored groups, no arbitrariness in the choice of affirmative action beneficiary groups, no mention of backlash and bigotry being fanned. Indeed, evidence was stretched (to be diplomatic) to make the "correct" case. One speaker quoted at length from US surveys showing that whites are strongly opposed to affirmative action, apparently trying to prove that racism was behind any criticism thereof. No mention was made of the fact that the same polls often show the majority of blacks and Hispanics also strongly opposed to affirmative action.

At the end of the two-hour harangue, I was introduced by the chairman - in a way indicating I was there to provide nothing more than comic relief - and told that I could have up to three minutes to present the other side of the affirmative action debate. There were shouts from the audience that the level of the discussion would be lowered by allowing me to speak. I politely told the audience that the ground rules of the debate did not appeal to me and so I was relinquishing my three minutes, and then walked out, followed by a dozen students who demanded to shake my hand. The main victims of PC intolerance and censorship have always been college students who are denied the right to hear both sides of political issues. That PC suppression of dissent and debate should occur at Tel Aviv University was unbelievable.

"Speech codes", a favorite bully club of the PC movement in the US to suppress heterodox dissent, have, as yet, not appeared on Israeli campuses. There are other indicators, however, that the PC movement in Israel is trying to introduce PC Newspeak. Coercing people to change the way they speak, adopting artificial and unnatural "non-judgmental" phrases, has always been one of the main tactics of the PC and radical feminist movements. The PC crowd does not believe that speech simply reflects existing attitudes; they think one can "engineer" people's attitudes by forcing them to speak differently. In Israel, however, they face a serious problem.

In Hebrew (and Arabic) there are no gender-neutral words; every single word in the language is either masculine or feminine. "Desk" and "window" are male; whereas, "door" and "elevator" are feminine, and - maddeningly - the word "breast" is masculine. This has not prevented the PC movement in Israel from nevertheless trying to conduct social engineering through distortion of language. Last year, the Ministry of Education issued an injunction ordering teachers to use female examples and pronouns in an equal proportion with male terms. So a teacher who says, "Yeladim [Children], be quiet!" would be presumed to be addressing the boy-pupils only. Teachers who want all children to be quiet must now use both genders and say "Yeladim and Yeladot". Otherwise, how on earth will noisy girls know they should quiet down? This is Hebrew Newspeak, as the male plural form "Yeladim" has always been used in two senses: 1) Boys; and 2) Children of non-specified gender or of both sexes.

In some of the universities, faculty have also been encouraged/pressured to speak Newspeak. Things have not reached the absurdity of American campuses, where speech patrols report to kangaroo courts the names of professors who use the expression, "the investor, he" too often relative to, "the investor, she", or where esoteric women and minority writers and researchers are substituted by mandate for those Dead White Males on the syllabus. But things could well move that way in the future.

Already, the Ministry of Education is issuing official reports that condemn textbooks where women figures are "under-represented" or portrayed in an allegedly negative manner. It financed a 300-page treatise entitled Each Sex Finds Its Equality, with foreword by Alice Shalvi, on educating children to think sexual equality. Much of the book consists of counts of men vs. women in textbooks; the shortage of women generals mentioned in history texts is apparently proof of the demonic phallocentric plot of men to stereotype women. Among the horribly chauvinist statements to be found in the schoolroom texts - according to this report - were things like children claiming they would "take turns at playing Mommy, to care for little Ofer who got sick", or "Mommy is getting the cake dough ready" (p. 157).

The schools have also been the targets of other attempts at PC indoctrination by the Ministry of Education. The schools had a "green" year, where the children were filled with tall tales of the miraculous wonders to be created through recycling garbage. At the end of the year, the Ministry for the Environment announced that it was suspending Israel's nascent recycling program, as it had discovered that the economists had been right all along and that recycling wastes far more resources than it saves. The schools have been flooded with unbalanced "educational materials" on the tremendous achievements of the Oslo peace process and the "Rabin Legacy". And the Ministry of Education issued new injunctions for making sure that women are not "stereotyped" in texts as being too unassertive or weak, or confined to certain unfashionable professions.

On it goes. Israel has been demonstrating a chronic vulnerability to invasion of silly, fashionable ideas from overseas, first and foremost of course the idea that peace can be achieved by giving Palestinians their own armed state. The problem is that Israel cannot afford such nonsense. In particular, the future of Israel - having few natural resources - depends completely upon efficient and intelligent use of its talented labor force and educational system. To subordinate these to the follies of PC fads - with their quotas, reverse discrimination, suppressed freedom of expression, and lowering of standards - is to undermine the existence of Israeli society.

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