Levin's law reform provoked three types of reactions: substantive discussion for and against, including alternate proposals and intermediary outlines; Extreme and irresponsible discourse, saturated with slogans about the end of democracy; And a vengeful witch hunt seeking to blacken anyone who is not on the right side. The Kohelet Forum is now experiencing such a smear campaign, after it was reported in the media that Levin's proposal also relies on research and ideas that the Forum published.
Until recently, the name of the forum was not widely known and was mostly recognized in the professional circles of the Forum’s diverse fields of practice, such as law and economics. From time to time, articles were published in various journals in order to warn against a large and influential research body, which is funded by foreign donors, and succeeds – heaven forbid – in promoting policy proposals in various governing bodies. But in recent weeks, the tones of the negative publications have risen. The war against those who do not oppose the reform has become a Crusade. The media this week published “investigations” about the Kohelet Forum, which are nothing more than a tiresome mix of boring truths (MKs consult them!), embarrassing half-truths and evil fictions. So why is the media suddenly harassing a research institute with an agenda?
Well, welcome to the world of non-governmental associations and nonprofit organizations. In the not too distant past we got used to these organizations promoting ideas from one side of the political spectrum. In recent years there has been a change. Today in Israel there is a lively discourse and many active civil society organizations from various sectors.
Organizations that promote an agenda operate in two opposite spheres: they challenge the government by disclosing information to the public and the media, by pointing out deficiencies, by identifying omissions and illegal governmental activity, and also by appealing to audit and oversight bodies. On the other hand, they assist the government in developing ideas, producing knowledge and transforming ideas into policies. An open secret is: officials, Knesset members and even ministers, are not experts in everything. In order to formulate bills or even to formulate a position, they must consult with others. Enriching the public world with research and ideas resulting from the initiative of the civil society organization that is connected to that field, therefore benefits government provided public service. Of course, the decision and responsibility for the idea rests with those in authority only.
The marketplace of ideas is also perfected thanks to civil society organizations. The academy is finding it difficult to deliver the goods, and the attitude towards the proposed legal reform demonstrates this well: as knights in an order, legal experts stand up and swear allegiance to the existing order. The supporters of the reform go underground as ‘conversos’. The state money is controlled by certain centers of power, which fails to produce ideological diversity. Here, too, the free market does it better.
A healthy democracy is one in which citizens are not afraid to work in organizations with an agenda, and do not reserve their opinions for the ballot box only. But here it becomes clear that media figures in Israel like a free marketplace of ideas only on the condition that it includes correct opinions. Civil society organizations are only allowed on one side. In contrast, the Kohelet Forum receives special treatment because it dares to take, in many areas, positions that are not always popular. It voices evidence based economic positions which exceed the bounds of political correctness. The Forum dared to challenge unelected centers of power in Israel, such as the Histadrut, the Israel Electric Corporation, the ports’ workers’ unions and the Attorney General. It revealed to the public how judges are appointed in democratic countries in the world (the answer: by elected officials), and how unusual the position of the Attorney General in Israel is in contrast to the general worldview.
And lo and behold, in the Channel 12 “investigation” they suddenly discovered that the Kohelet Forum’s funding comes from abroad. And not just abroad, from capitalists, and not just capitalists – from Jews. A scandal. It’s as though they have never heard of large organizations that for decades have been promoting a political agenda in Israel using funds from foreign donors, not to mention the funds of foreign governments, which is already in a different league and completely unacceptable. Despite the sensational exposure, the Kohelet Forum will continue to offer ideas, initiatives and reforms to senior officials, ministers and Knesset members, regardless of party, race, religion or political outlook. Everything is laid out and things will come and go. The Forum will also continue to operate in the public sphere and in political institutions, in the courts and in the media. It will continue to be a center of diverse research and ideology. And, it will continue to work to strengthen Israeli democracy, to establish Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, to strengthen individual rights, to promote a competitive economy and to adopt a wise fiscal policy.