Next month I am due to participate in a London debate on the question: Is it OK for Jews to criticize Israel? One of my opponents is a leader of the Peace Now movement who, in a previous debate about the UK’s academic boycott, steered the discussion to his own army service (as an IDF spokesman, no less) and promptly branded Israeli border guards as “paramilitary thugs.”
Clearly Israel has enough enemies in the Islamic world, the EU and UN to know that it’s damned if it defends itself and doomed if it doesn’t. For those bent on Israel’s destruction, Jewish self-criticism is the most prized commodity of all. It is the stuff of instant acclaim and the fastest means of promotion in the media and academic world. I regard these people as simple egoists who will sell out their own people for their own self-aggrandizement and acceptance as equals at those dinner parties where Israel is so fashionably derided.
Irritating or even toxic as such Jews may be, they hardly amount to a real and present danger to Israel. But the egos of some of Israel’s own leaders clearly do. I refer in particular to Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister and acting foreign minister. No amount of blunders and mistakes can keep this man out of power and high office. Whether it was his embarrassing pullout from South Lebanon in the middle of the night, leaving behind tons of military hardware, or his mishandling of the Gaza flotilla incident, nothing sticks to this Teflon character. Any other defense minister would have been forced to resign after the flotilla “paintball” debacle. Especially when former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon stands ready to replace him. Instead, Barak is rewarded with a cabinet seat for each of the four members of his pathetic new party and continues shuttling to Washington as de-facto foreign minister, defense minister and deputy prime minister all rolled into one. Advertisement
While this makes a mockery of Netanyahu’s government and the Israeli cabinet system, it doesn’t come close to the seriousness of Barak’s dismissal of IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and the embarrassment and upheaval that has followed in the replacement process. Whatever secrets the cabinet may still have, it is clear as daylight that Barak had personal issues with Ashkenazi. Many say it is because Ashkenazi was such a success in restructuring the IDF after the disastrous Second Lebanon War, and as Barak’s own star was falling in Labor he became envious of the spotlight.
Whatever the reason, Barak cut short Ashkenazi’s term and put forward his friend Yoav Galant for the job. A dirty-tricks row followed over documents that turned out to have been forged by an Ashkenazi supporter to discredit Galant. Then, just two weeks prior to his appointment, Galant himself was disqualified for questionable testimony given in a court case about the unlawful extension of his property.
Any honorable defense minister would have simply extended Ashkenazi’s term until the air was cleared and the government and army could take stock. But not Barak. His ego seems to trump all considerations of a learning curve or morale and discipline within the army ranks. He flatly refused to extend Ashkenazi’s term for even a day, and simply went farther down the list of candidates. In record time he selected Benny Gantz. That choice was also not without challenge – this time from the family of a Bedouin soldier left to bleed to death at Joseph’s tomb under Gantz’s command in 2002. That the Knesset’s selection committee has nevertheless now approved Gantz may not be the end of the matter since they also had approved Galant before the property scandal was raised in the press. No one really knows how this power trip will finally pan out for the army and the country. One thing is clear: because of Barak’s personal issues, they only got second best.
I try to imagine this kind of thing happening in the British army – her majesty’s secretary of state for defense being in open warfare with his own chief of general staff, a person he himself selected a few years earlier. And when his preferred replacement is discredited, he makes things worse instead of better. What an unedifying sight this would be. And how critical to the morale of an army that might be called on at any moment to defend the Falkland Islands.