FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Secret of Authority

A huge farce is being staged in the Israeli High Court of Justice. Every university in the country has joined an appeal of a ruling by the National Labor Court (which ordered Bar-Ilan University in April 2005 to reveal its procedure for appointing professors), and in the name of academic freedom, they are asking the court to uphold the secrecy of their minutes. The appeal asked the court to recognize the secrecy of these deliberations as a component of academic freedom, arguing that publicizing them would do irreversible harm to the academic system, its status and the reputation of Israeli academia.

The court has yet to hand down its decision, but from the petition, it seems that the universities understood something the labor court did not want to understand: This is not America. Here, tenders are issued only for the record, and the record is valid only for the moment when what is written there is written. All the rest is strictly oral. Nowhere else is the appearance of knowledge dependent on the secrecy of the considerations of those who determine it, the way it is in the universities. And nowhere is this appearance undermined as severely as it is in prize committees outside of academia, to which academics bring their reputation for knowledge, but are exposed to outside criticism.

The granting of the Sapir Prize to a young journalist, Ron Leshem, can teach us something about the importance of public deliberations. It could be that the prize’s name suits it. After all, the culture of unrecorded decisions, and their results, can clarify how our lives are run. This culture is embodied by the legacy of Pinhas Sapir. The American model may be good for the business world, with its myriad competitors. But in our intellectual life, we continue to act like officials in an eastern European synagogue: What has been agreed upon in advance will not be recorded.

Five judges chose a single novel out of three that had been published over the past year. The uproar that arose over their decision does not reflect the problematic nature of the system. No one asked about the other novels that made it into the final round, nor about the dozens that did not reach this stage. The chairman, Yitzhak Livni a man of great knowledge, great activity and many positions was the only one who liked Leshem’s book. And therefore, the prize was ultimately awarded to a novel that most of the judges, according to a report in Sunday’s Ha’aretz, did not like with the exception of the chairman, who has not been replaced for years. Why replace him? After all, we need someone who knows the oral tradition.

The explanation given by Professor Dan Laor–a former dean of the humanities, meaning he has a history of discussions whose key points were never written down in the minutes–for the panel members’ change of heart raises questions, to say the least. Livni’s powers of persuasion seem bizarre. And doubts immediately arose about the nature of the relationship between chairman Livni–who earns money, among other things, from Channel 2 television’s news program–and the author of the winning novel, Leshem, a deputy managing director of Channel 2 franchisee Keshet. This is certainly the place where an old and very cynical power structure, the university, intersects with a new and much stronger power structure, the electronic media. Here, there is no pretense of ‘knowledge’ or ‘taste’ Here, power rules. But here, things are also made public, to the point of endangering secrecy. And that is not the only innovation in our intellectual life.

The newest players in the field of ‘prize culture’ are book publishers. Some of them now earn turnovers of millions of shekels, and their PR staff rushes about between the critics, literature supplements and, of course, prize committees. Anyone who misreads the new relationship between these power structures and the intellectual values of our life is making a grave error.

There is seemingly no recourse for this type of subverted justice. Nevertheless, whether the High Court creates order in the places where thousands are trained in this system of decision-making ethics, or whether it refrains from doing so, there is no problem with instituting a new order in everything connected with literature prizes. Why not hold public deliberations? Let committee member Meir Wieseltier explain, in a session open to the public, why he considered Leshem’s book better than others. Books are made of words. Decisions are also made of words, when they are explained. His judgment could interest the public. After all, it was Wieseltier who opened his poem, The Secret of Authority, with the line: ‘When in the inner sanctum a purple seal is stamped.’

But the most important thing has not yet been said about Leshem’s reportage-cum-novel–and it would have been said if the discussion had been open: This novel returned the center of Hebrew prose to the days of ‘shooting and crying,’ to the days of ‘might makes right,’ to the Lebanon War as an inseparable part of Israel’s wars of the few against the many.?

Anyone who thought Ariel Sharon’s rehabilitation would stop at the color of the etrog, and would not include the Lebanon War in culture, was, of course, naive. Power structures all include each other in the same gray color.

YITZHAK LAOR is an Israeli novelist who lives in Tel Aviv.

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail