Israel-Professionals against Populism: The Peres Government and Democracy

By Tachau, Frank | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

Israel-Professionals against Populism: The Peres Government and Democracy


Tachau, Frank, The Middle East Journal


ISRAEL

Professionals Against Populism: The Peres Government and Democracy, by Michael Keren. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. viii + 110 pages. Appends. to p. 113. Notes to p. 132. Bibl. to p. 141. Index to p. 147. $16.95.

Reviewed by Frank Tachau

Michael Keren, recent chairman of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University, is a student of the interaction between knowledge and power in Israel. He has previously published two books on this subject, one of which focuses on Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's (194854, 1955-63) relations with scholars, scientists and philosophers.' The present volume is in some respects a follow-up to that study, especially as it concentrates on Ben-Gurion's most prominent protege, Prime Minister Shimon Peres (1984-86, 1995-96).

The book posits two types of political dynamics: populism, which Keren defines as "direct contact between the masses and political leaders who embody `the will of the people' " (p. 1); and pluralism, which "implies structured dialogue between social groups" (p. 1). Keren suggests that Labor Party policy making exemplifies the latter while the Likud, especially under Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1977-83), typifies the former. He indicates, further, that populists such as Begin, and presumably Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (1996-), pay less attention to professional expert advice in developing and implementing policy. On the other hand, Labor, especially under Ben-Gurion and Peres, relied heavily on the experts, allowing these experts to play significant policy-making roles.

Keren posits three models of relations between professionals and politicians: the autonomy model, according to which the professionals interact formally with power holders; the co-optation model, according to which power holders control access to themselves on a personal rather than on a formal basis (by way of invitations to lunch, for example); and the exchange model, according to which "knowledge has been politicized enough to become an active actor in the power game" (p. 13). "In this model, the relations between knowledge and power are neither the outgrowth of formal roles nor of personal preferences but a combination of both" (p. 14). The third model is labeled the exchange model because the interests of the professionals are engaged directly in the political process, creating a process of "exchange of political assets" (p. 14) between professionals and politicians which is crucial to both. Examples include economists who seek to implement a policy of economic stabilization, and journalists engaged in conflict over freedom of speech.

The bulk of this slender book is devoted to analysis of three cases in which Peres, as prime minister, interacted significantly with groups of professional experts. The first examines the role of the legal profession in the scandal surrounding the death of two Palestinians captured by Israeli soldiers and turned over to the General Security Services (GSS) after they hijacked an Israeli interurban bus in April 1984.2 Dissident GSS officials suspected a cover-up and asked Peres to initiate a legal review of the affair. This request pitted the interests of the legal profession, in maintaining the rule of law, against the institutional autonomy of the security services. It took place at a politically sensitive moment, when the rotation of the prime ministership from Peres to Yitzhak Shamir (1983-84, 1986-91) was imminent. Ultimately, the affair led to a clash between the prime minister and the attorney general, who had initiated a police investigation. The upshot was the resignation of both the attorney general and the head of the GSS, and a presidential pardon of the GSS officials involved. Keren regards the outcome of this crisis as a defeat for the legal professionals, "who lacked the political ingenuity necessary to fight political battles and thus failed in maintaining the supremacy of the law" (p. …

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