The State's systematic violation of privacy
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Marking and tracking citizens systems have been used in the State of Israel for decades. They are one of the requisits for the creation of the highly discriminating society we witness today. The Israeli system is mainly based on the requirement that all Israeli citizens carry identity cards issued by the Ministry of Interior, a kind of internal passport.
The cards have a field that translates into English as "Ethnic Group," but which generally refers to the religion of the individual. The old pharisaic tradition states that in Judaism's case, the ethnic group and the religion overlap, that it is meaningless for a Jew to change his religion. This nonsense obliges every citizen recognized as a Jew to be circumcised without being asked, to marry in a synagogue if he wishes his marriage to be recognized by the state, and to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
Following a huge public debate that occurred shortly before my leaving the country for the last time, I think that explicit statement was removed from any new identity card. But the records are still kept by the ministry that chooses the citizen’s religion according to their files about his or her ancestors. The official viewpoint of the minister during the public debate was that the religion field in the document was irrelevant due to their listing. However, the record is not kept only within the ministry; it is also encoded in the document's number. Document numbers are like a tattoo on the citizen's hands.
My ID number begins with one (1), while that of other Israelis my age has a number beginning with two (2), and more often than not with a three or four following it; it denotes I was born in a Western country. Its first three numbers are: "111." I always joked that I had the Mark of the Trinity on my document, only to be met with angry, scolding stares. Christianity was a non-topic.
The information encoded in the numbers ensured that those with access only to the number would still be aware of personal details. For example, when my school published exam results on the faculty board, the grade appeared next to the corresponding identification number. This was a process adopted to promise false anonymity. Studying with us was an Israeli Arab; her grades were easily detected by an identity number beginning with four and her grades shone in the list as a new sun in the sky. The professor checking her exam would identify it as belonging to an Arab, despite the fact that no names appeared on the forms. An ID number beginning with a three denoted the few students belonging to the massive Russian immigration from the early nineties.
Marking identifying details on individuals is a dreadful characteristic that Israel shares with horrible regimes from the first half of the twentieth century in Europe. Once in Israel, the surviving Jews from Europe adopted the system in a more sophisticated, less evident way. The victims had become executors; they adopted the same type of ethnic discrimination. Since, in Israel the citizen's religion determines his debts towards and rights from the state, it was a very serious issue. The offensiveness of the system is more evident and painful: a Druze can choose not to go to the army, while an Arab is automatically exempted unless he is a Bedouin; an ultra-orthodox Jew can choose according to his will, while secular Jews are obliged to serve in the army; his conscience is irrelevant to the issue. Once, talking about the issue with a self-justifying friend, my claims were rebuffed; he told me that I could change the Ethnic Group field in my document if I wished, and then I could marry in whichever temple I chose. Well, he was right on the technical level, but the process would take years of painful arguments with the ministry and at its end, my document number would still identify me according to the whims of an unjust Pharisee and I still couldn't marry in a civil ceremony.
For almost fifty uninterrupted years, the Ministry of Interior was a bastion of the ultra-orthodox Jews, no matter what was the leading party in the government. The Israeli government had inherited the British system, only with a president instead of a king as the symbolic head of the state. Below him was the prime minister, who was a member of the parliament, the Knesset. The prime minister needed a majority of the vote from the parliament to get the job. In practice, despite the changes of the laws over time, he needed at least sixty-one votes of the one hundred and twenty members to create a stable government. However, such a coalition depended on a single vote when the time of hard decisions arrived and often, that was the reason for new elections. Coalitions of over seventy members were rare; instability was the norm. Cardinal decisions and new laws needed to be approved by the parliament; hence, a non-stable coalition wouldn't allow the government to rule the country. After the defection of a coalition party or member, minority governments existed for only short periods of time. They couldn't legislate easily and depended on the cooperation of opposition members, which cost money. The leading party seldom won sixty votes in the parliament during the general elections; therefore, coalition governments were the norm. In the late nineties, an experiment of direct elections for the prime minister was enacted, but since he still needed a majority in the parliament to rule, the situation was reversed.
Until 1977, the Labor Party was the biggest force in the parliament; after that the Likud, a revisionist turned neo-conservative party, became the leading power during most of the time. Beyond the limited periods when they cooperated, these two parties needed a coalition with the third biggest force. Due to these circumstances, the ultra-orthodox rabbinical parties were a growing force for years. There was a cluster of such pharisaic parties -- their disagreements were a result of ethnic divisions and personal rivalries between their leaders. Western Ultra-Orthodox Jews voted for certain parties, while Oriental ones for others, albeit all of them worshipped the same gold.
Since they decided which of the big parties would lead the government, they could decide which ministries and committees they would receive. Their main bastions were the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Education, and the head of the Finances Committee in the Parliament.
The Ministry of Interior allowed them to make decisions regarding the religion of a given citizen. It gave them the power to decide who will go to the army and who not; they were exempted of service but they could decide for other citizens if they would endanger their lives or not.
The Ministry of Education allowed them to define the programs of study and to impose their views, especially their interpretation of the Bible, on all the other citizens. Once they lost this ministry, they had already indoctrinated the people so hard that nobody questioned this part of the educational program. The pharisaic doctrines of “acting according to personal convenience” and of “hating the other” had promised themselves survival for a while longer.
However, the Finances Committee was the cherry in their wedding cake -- it allowed them to give money to the Yeshivot, the Jewish Religious Colleges. The result was that most ultra-orthodox Jews remained students in such colleges at age fifty and over; they got an automatic scholarship and didn't need to show any tangible results. Every few years, there were scandals regarding lists of false students. The results of the religious studies were questionable even by their own standards. You won't kill, said the Bible. It didn't condition the statement; it was clear and strong as the sun during Jerusalem's summer. Yet, in 1995, a former Yeshiva student, at the time studying at the religious Bar Ilan University, killed Prime Minister Rabin with the blessing of his Pharisaic rabbi. He had gone from one rabbi to another until he found one that agreed that the killing would save many Jewish lives and thus was justified. A Pharisaic rabbi gave his blessing to a murder. It was immoral hypocrisy and moral corruption of the lowest kind by those who pretended to carry morality's flag. I wish the solution was as simple as saying: “Forgive them father, because they do not know what they are doing.” They know pretty well that they perpetrate an immoral manipulation.
In ways of deception, the ultra-orthodox always had more than enough money for their institutions and they held control over the most intimate matters of the population. It wasn't just the Yeshivot. Until a bit after my last exit from the country, ultra-orthodox families received child pensions from the National Insurance much bigger than everyone else. The pensions were anti-social since the first two children, the ones who cause most expenses to the family, got only a tiny recognition from the social services. From the third child, the pension began to grow exponentially and ultra-orthodox families with nine or ten children could live out of this money until their last offspring celebrated eighteen years of age. It was a pseudo-democracy serving the ideas of a powerful, manipulating, hypocritical minority. "It was a democratic decision," their leaders always said after having coerced the leading parties to their last evil machination. The defense of minority rights wasn't in their definition of democracy, and the country had no constitution to ensure those or any other rights.
A constitution isn't a foolproof mechanism, but it can be transformed into an important line of defense against judiciary and executive excesses. Most Israelis ignored why they needed a constitution, because it wasn't part of the educational process. The Orthodox Jews claimed that the Old Testament was the only law needed, henceforth was doubly obsolete; this outrageous claim was widely accepted as a legitimate one. Maybe the Bible could be used for law, but the point was that the orthodox weren't basing their lives on it. The modern orthodox and their rabbis are the political descendants of the scribes, later known as Pharisees and even later as rabbis. They designed a smart scheme of claiming that God gave to Moses an oral law besides the written one, the Pentateuch. There were no signs of that in the Bible, but the people didn't read it and couldn't refute the conspirators. Following that reasoning, they claimed the key for the correct interpretation of the Bible was in the oral tradition; hence, those ignorant of it, meaning the people outside the rabbinical system, cannot understand the readings. In such a way, and after the final collapse of the Sadducees with the fall of the second temple, they took control over the life of the people, from birth, through marriage and until burial. The problem with the Pharisees' interpretation was its basic principle; their analysis was based upon self-convenience. They would not hear the Christian minority message of faith and love described in the New Testament, which was called a false prophecy by the orthodox rabbis; nor the Muslim minorities claims about the Koran's laws. Their aim was to create a Pharisaic Theocratic state, and that target justified everything in their eyes. The readiness of the wider public to accept such nonsense was the worst result of the public's cultivated ignorance.
The general lack of knowledge of the population in civic matters was actively supported by the state, through the structuring of the educational process and the control of the content of civics courses. The general lack of knowledge of the population in civic matters was actively supported by the state, through the structuring of the educational process and the control of the content of civics courses. Since in Israel there were different streams of schools and high schools, courses were adapted to each ethnic or religious segment of the society. Various layers of the population, specifically those attending the Jewish religious stream, skipped the civic education altogether. From the other streams, only students aiming for university studies needed to graduate with a minimal civil studies course, which was transformed into a political stage for the political stream backing the school. As a rule, the courses simply described the actual political map and its changes along time, centering the students' attention on the results of specific elections and skipping many of the more important issues.
The result was a general ignorance of their ignorance on the matter, so that many Israelis were convinced of the system's justice. They believed that Democracy is just the rule of the largest group in the population. This conviction was used by all the mainstream political parties, but mainly by the Jewish orthodox ones. Orthodox groups presented the general elections as the total personification of democracy, the ultimate justification for their discriminating laws. "It's the majority decision," they claimed, ignoring basic human rights, ignoring minority rights, ignoring equality in the eyes of the law, ignoring justice. "We have suffered" ... "We have been persecuted, our system is justified," they cried, not comprehending that just at that moment they had performed the very same atrocity to their equals. "We kept Judaism alive through the centuries, not you," they add in a final, supposedly offensive note to their Jewish secular counterparts -- as if they had been asked to do so, as if that was the justification for every wrong they are doing, as if it was right. Other people in other times and places, searching for a justification for their well known atrocities against Jews said, "We were just following orders." Both attitudes were born from a dangerous authoritarism that ignored basic human rights. Theological claims justifying discrimination were just crimes, regardless of the direction from which they came. The God of Justice must be kept blindfolded; the state should not favor a specific citizen or group of citizens.
A more obvious problem was the discrimination due to the last name origin. Surnames were a recent practice among Jews; therefore, a European or Oriental ancestry was straight away recognizable and was a source of discrimination. It was harder for Oriental Jews to get a good education or good job. The surname's effect on a person's success was immediate and could be measured even before he opened his mouth -- the slightly different pronunciation of Hebrew among the groups was only a secondary recognition mechanism. The solution here was simpler, since the country allowed changing one's name every seven years, and to do that at the Ministry of Interior was a matter of minutes. However, the identity card retained the former surname, therefore to erase any sign of his original surname, a citizen needed to change it twice. In Israel Oriental Jews were usually referred to as the Second Israel.
In other places and times, politicians sought to attract the public to their views of a better future; whether a liberal or a conservative one, a capitalist or a communist, or another option already tested or not. They had a vision which they wanted to turn into reality; both Lincoln and Mao wanted to fulfill their ideals on how their society should look. However, the main parties in Israel didn't have any views on the shape of the country's reality; no one of them had a coherent vision of how they wanted the country's society to look in another fifty years. Social and economic issues were detached from political life because politicians had chosen an easier and darker path. Frightening citizens by means of exaggerated interpretations, they could focus the public attention on places easier to deal with. Moreover, they became heroes, fighting day and night (the night part was always emphasized) for the well being of the people against a usually unseen enemy. Riding on the primordial fears of an ever present enemy they could ensure few would pay attention to their greed. However, during the Passover I bought pitas and hummus at Muhammad's grocery store. Both peoples met together while doing weekend barbeques at Tel Aviv's promenade. Both peoples just wanted peace and a nice steak -- except for those nasty vegetarians. Nasty vegetarians? That's exactly the way our politicians divided and ruled. Nasty vegetarians are a ridicule concept; it was my answer each time I heard a politician attacking fellow humans. Their deepest fear was personal freedom. Random individual behavior is a way to create diversity and, despite being the very way to ensure natural success and survival, it is also the way to destroy oligarchies. Frightening.
But to exert a truly powerful influence on people, there is need to use more than frightening news -- the news needs to be put within a logical context. A powerful myth. We are a chosen Nation aiming to rule the world by God. This is a good one, and if the complete Bible says otherwise, well, then we’ll teach only certain parts of it and in the way interpreted by the foreign Pharisaical doctrines in the Talmud. All the other nations are against us, they fear us and thus they attack us; we have been victims of the goyim for endless years but now it's our turn. Surprisingly, it worked with the people who praise themselves for being well-educated.
Suppressing individualism in such a way created a very united society acting as a single individual to fulfill the targets marked by the politician's oligarchy. These targets had a strange quality in that they benefited the politicians economically. Most of the prominent politicians used government institutions as life-long jobs, from which they served their other businesses. Many were more than thirty years in the parliament, which sometimes resembled a geriatric institution. The most prominent example was Shimon Peres, who had over fifty years of experience in top positions, and a brother in the construction business who enjoyed far too many government bids.
Extreme nationalism, disguised in this case under a Victims’ Chosen Nation myth, had been always a dangerous thing. It always created political terrorism toward those strong enough to reject it, to think differently. If you do not accept our nice myth, then you are a traitor and we do not need to hear your explanations. Meanwhile, the truth remained hidden: only by taking care of everyone in society, not the societies defined by imaginary boundaries, but the general society, only in such a way, can security and prosperity for all be provided.
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