Philosopher who sees moral crisis in Israel will speak here

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Asa Kasher has spent his career studying moral conflicts and debating philosophical dilemmas. His biggest concern now, however, isn’t Aristotle or Descartes. It is Israel’s ailing political culture.

The professor at Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan universities, who last week received the prestigious Israel Prize for his work in philosophy, asserts that Israel is at a moral crossroads.

“The political culture of the country is quite weak right now, and it must be attended to quickly,” Kasher said Tuesday in a phone interview from his Tel Aviv home.

Kasher will lecture across the Bay Area from Tuesday, Feb. 22 to Tuesday, Feb. 29. The S.F.-based Israel Center is sponsoring his visit.

The philosopher expressed dismay at the way the current financial scandals are unfolding. Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s Labor/One Israel Party is accused of soliciting illegal campaign contributions. President Chaim Weizman is accused of accepting large amounts of money from a French businessman.

“Barak and other politicians are now being indicted by innuendo. There has not been an effort made to sift through the facts before making these charges,” the philosopher said.

Kasher enjoys a lofty reputation in Israel, where he is a ubiquitous presence concerning moral matters.

“Whenever issues of integrity or ethics arise in Israel, Asa Kasher will probably have some commentary on it,” said Vavi Toran, the Israel Center’s director of cultural resources.

Kasher is also upset at a political system that he feels is held hostage by special interest groups.

“The ultra-Orthodox are hampering freedom of expression in Israel,” he said. “They have been wielding more and more influence and have forced both major parties to dance to their tunes.”

Censorship is the inevitable result of the fervently religious influence, he asserts. He cites the case of Aryeh Deri, former interior minister and former head of the fervently religious Shas Party. Deri was sentenced last year to four years in prison for bribe-taking, among other offenses.

Kasher said that the Knesset’s Orthodox members tried to impose a media blackout on the trial.

He is also unhappy with the way Israel handles individual rights.

“One of the major problems with Israeli democracy is that it has no constitutional guarantees of human rights,” he said. “To my knowledge, it’s the only functioning democracy without such a provision.”

That situation, according to Kasher, manifests itself in the way important issues are obfuscated. He offers the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as one example.

“There was no mention by either one of the major parties during 1996 to discuss the assassination. There was no public dialogue about it, and therefore no real healing could take place.

“Consequently…polls are increasingly showing that many Israelis favor violence as a means of solving problems.”