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Editorial Article

Israeli Prof Seeks to Disarm Israel

by Joel Amitai

A look at the positions taken over the years on security and security-related issues by Israel’s Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer shows a systematic bias against Israel’s efforts to defend itself against constant murderous attacks and attempted attacks.

Less than two years ago Israeli left-wing writer Tom Segev published a piece on a meeting between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs that aimed at “formulating a charter to define…the relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.” The Jewish contingent was led by Prof. Kremnitzer, who “even agreed to change the [Israeli] anthem, the flag and the state emblem.”

Segev, though, goes on to express his “disappointment” at Kremnitzer: “At one point he threatened to resign as the group’s facilitator. That happened when it emerged that the Arab participants were refusing to accept the text defining Israel as a Jewish state.”

It may seem reassuring that Kremnitzer — Ivan C. Rand Professor of Criminal Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute — at least insists on defining Israel as a Jewish state. The problem is that if the Jewish state had listened over the years to his advice on security-related matters, it would be so unable to defend itself that it probably wouldn’t exist anyway.

One near-consensus Israeli position — except for a leftist fringe — is that an Israeli named Mordechai Vanunu committed treason. In 1986, for a lot of money, he sold secrets of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to Britain’s Sunday Times, which went on to publish the secrets including photos of Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona that Vanunu took surreptitiously while he was a worker there. If this wasn’t treason it’s not clear what the word could mean, and that same year, 1986, after being nabbed by the Mossad and whisked back to Israel, Vanunu was sentenced to eighteen years in prison for his acts.

Yet a 1992 newsletter by a London-based group called the Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Nuclear Free Middle East cited Mordechai Kremnitzer as saying, after Vanunu’s appeal was rejected, that (in the newsletter’s words) “the charge of treason was inappropriate” and that (in Kremnitzer’s words) “the treason charge comes close to stopping freedom of expression and the public’s right to know.” Here Kremnitzer apparently confirmed the view of a foreign radical-fringe group that an Israeli who works at a top-secret national-security facility and then sells its secrets to a major foreign newspaper is not betraying his country but serving “freedom of expression and the right to know.”

In a similar spirit, in 2000 Prof. Kremnitzer published a paper on the legality of interrogation methods used by Israel’s General Security Service (GSS). This issue, like some of the others Kremnitzer deals with, is complex and admits of different, legitimate positions. On pages 548-554 of the paper, though, Kremnitzer comes out against all harsh treatment of detainees by the GSS. Especially in an era in which Israel is targeted by fanatic terror organizations from Hamas to Hizballah to Al Qaeda that possess or are working hard to obtain mass-destruction weapons, Kremnitzer’s position is astonishing and amounts to saying that a captured terrorist known or suspected to have information bearing on the saving of lives should at most be subjected to an inquisitive conversation. The “saving of lives,” of course, could refer to a magnitude of dozens of lives (in a “conventional” suicide bombing) or possibly even something much worse.

Indeed, for Kremnitzer, in facing the terror campaign that since 1993 has killed over 1500 Israelis and wounded and traumatized many thousands more, Israel’s responsibility is to cripple itself. In the real word, Israel’s targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders played a major role in drastically reducing the wave of suicide bombings and other terror that reached a peak earlier in this decade. In 2003, though, Kremnitzer warned against the practice and said it would lead to Israelis being arrested as war criminals.

More recently, in the wake of the July 2 attack by a bulldozer-driving terrorist in Jerusalem that killed three and wounded dozens, Kremnitzer spoke out against demolitions of the homes of terrorists’ families, claiming that this measure “has become identified with the Israeli occupation” and “does not deter terrorism.” Although a 2005 study by an IDF committee cast doubt on the effectiveness of home demolitions, at that time committee head Maj.-Gen. Udi Shani advised considering the resumption of the demolitions if a new wave of terrorism began. In the wake of the July 2 bulldozer attack Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter called home demolitions “a key component of Israel’s deterrence”, and in the context of a July 15 copycat Jerusalem bulldozer attack GSS chief Yuval Diskin also urged resuming the demolitions.

The question of how to deter a terrorist who’s planning to get himself killed anyway is an acute one. By this time, though, we shouldn’t be surprised that on this issue, too, Kremnitzer’s concerns lie with those Israel might have to act against, not with the Israeli lives that Israel needs to protect.

Likewise in a recent op-ed, Kremnitzer condemned a Knesset bill to exempt Israel from paying damage claims to Palestinians harmed during hostilities. This issue is indeed clear-cut: no army can operate under the expectation of a flood of lawsuits against its officers and soldiers. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has strict rules against harming civilians unless absolutely unavoidable as collateral damage, and those who have infringed the rules have been punished. One doesn’t have to be a military or legal expert, though, to imagine the effectiveness of an army hamstrung by fears of mass litigation.

But considering Prof. Kremnitzer’s positions on Mordechai Vanunu’s acts, the interrogation of terror suspects, targeted killings of terror masters, and home demolitions, it’s no surprise this Knesset bill wasn’t to his liking. Indeed, a position Kremnitzer recently took on a different issue may well shed light on his attitude toward Israeli society in general.

Last April the Knesset discussed passing a law that would require holding a national referendum before any territorial compromise involving the Golan Heights or Jerusalem. Testifying to the Knesset against the law was Prof. Kremnitzer, who stated that: “If the verdict of a referendum is determined by a small majority that includes Arab voters, then a certain sector whose view was not accepted is liable to attempt to reject the legitimacy of the referendum and may fight against it violently.”

As columnist Caroline Glick noted, “That ‘certain sector’ Kremnitzer was referring to, of course, are the Jews who oppose the partition of Jerusalem and the surrender of the Golan Heights, by a large majority.”

And as she went on to note: “Kremnitzer’s argument is both ridiculous and self-serving. It is ridiculous because he knows that in 2004, Likud members held a referendum on the government’s planned withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon pledged to abide by the results of his party’s vote. But when 65 percent of Likud members rejected his plan, he ignored them. And the public’s reaction, while strong, was completely nonviolent.”

It may well be, though, that despite that precedent, Kremnitzer meant what he said: he would genuinely expect an outbreak of mass violence by Israelis who lost in a referendum. A view of most Israelis as basically a violent rabble would go far to explain his insistence that Israel not only can’t be trusted, and shouldn’t be allowed, to engage in the quintessentially democratic practice of a referendum, but also can’t be trusted to fight its enemies and instead needs to be shackled by a bevy of regulations to prevent it from committing egregious sins—even at the expense of its citizens’ security.

Mordechai Kremnitzer’s name has sometimes been raised as a possible future candidate for Israel’s Supreme Court. Woe betide. He already does enough damage as an academic.

Joel Amitai is an independent researcher and filmmaker. Reach him at


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