We have recently been subjected to a variety of prominent Israelis publicly
besmirching their country in order to promote their personal agendas or
compensate for their frustrations.
However, we fail to appreciate the
extent to which these ravings damage our global standing and embolden those
seeking Israel’s destruction.
The most recent outbursts, on display at
The Jerusalem Post
Conference in New York in which I participated, received
massive global media coverage. The conference was attended by over 1,200
participants from throughout North America.
Most attendees expected to
hear reports relating to Israel’s current situation, but were thoroughly
bewildered when the former Israeli prime minister and the retired head of the
Mossad expressed views which were more in synch with J Street and the marginal
I was not on the panel in which these statements were
uttered. Had I been, this is what I would have sought to convey.
is currently confronting the greatest challenges since 1948. We face existential
threats from a potentially nuclear Iran which publicly proclaims its
determination to wipe us off the map. The extremist Islamic revival in the Arab
world raises doubts as to whether we will be retaining our tenuous peaceful
relations with the purportedly moderate neighboring states.
Other than in
the US, Canada and Australia, our standing in the world has been undermined by
virulent Islamic and indigenous anti-Semitic campaigns of demonization and
delegitimization. Clearly, now is the time for unity and for responsible
Israelis to exercise restraint and avoid offensive hyperbole when criticizing
their government, especially when abroad.
Yet ironically, precisely when
rank-and-file Israelis display a greater consensus toward the security policies
of the government since the great divide over the Oslo Accords, former prime
minister Ehud Olmert in New York indulged in historical revisionism, implying
that had he remained in office we would already be at peace with the
Palestinians, apportioning blame to the Israeli government for failing to
achieve peace and hailing the duplicitous and intransigent Palestinian Authority
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as a genuine peace partner.
He omitted to mention
that he negotiated with the Palestinians behind closed doors without the
approval of his cabinet, the government or the Knesset and that despite his
offer to return to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines, accepting some
refugees and having had the gall to offer to forgo Israel’s control of the
Temple Mount, Abbas still turned him down and did not even bother to make a
counter offer. He accused his own ministers of having discouraged Abbas from
accepting his offer.
It was not a pleasant spectacle to witness a
discredited former Israeli prime minister heckled and booed by an American
Jewish audience. But Olmert had only himself to blame for
Regrettably, in the current jungle of Israeli politics, anything
goes. Olmert subsequently told The New York Times
that Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu “was disrespectful of America,” that “America is not a client state of
Israel” and should not be perceived as if it “obeyed orders from Jerusalem.”
Such statements, which will undoubtedly be exploited by anti-Semites, exemplify
the depths to which Olmert has sunk.
Could one visualize former president
Bush, whose country is not under existential threat, speaking in such
disparaging terms in relation to the policies of his successor? Had he done so,
most Americans would have been outraged.
THERE WAS no doubt that Olmert
had lost the plot following his CNN interview, in which he made the bizarre
assertion that a US right-wing conspiracy had led to his political downfall. In
what sounded like an adaptation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he
claimed that it was “millions and millions of dollars transferred from the US by
figures from the extreme right wing” which toppled his government and thwarted
his attempt to achieve a lasting peace.
Equally appalling were the
outbursts from former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who, displaying contempt for the
sensitive position he had occupied only a year earlier, launched a vitriolic
campaign besmirching Netanyahu and challenging his motives in relation to the
Iranian nuclear threat. A week earlier in Israel, Yuval Diskin, the outgoing
head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), hysterically questioned the
sanity of our prime minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and denounced them
for being “messianic” and “appealing to the idiot public.”
There may be
legitimate grounds for different opinions concerning the timing and employment
of military force against Iran.
But such matters are not determined by
the uninformed public and we must rely on our elected leaders operating with the
sanction of a responsible government-appointed security committee to make the
That is why many of us not privy to the intelligence
required for making a balanced judgment have avoided debating the
Surely we are entitled to expect former intelligence officers who
dissent from government policies, to conduct themselves in a sober and
responsible manner even if they harbor animus against Netanyahu for having
failed to grant their personal requests while in office. And above all, to avoid
undermining the Israeli government’s efforts to strengthen global sanctions in
order to obviate the need for military action.
Could one visualize the retired head of MI5 or CIA warning the public that their national leader was a deranged Dr.Strangelove unfit to lead the country? Would such behavior by a retired intelligence chief be tolerated in any normal democracy? To
exacerbate the situation, at the Jerusalem Post Conference, Dagan justified
Diskin’s outbursts as “serious” and legitimate manifestations of freedom of
expression. After publicly calling Likud Environmental Protection Minister Gilad
Erdan a “liar,” he warned the stunned audience that Erdan’s suggestion that upon
retirement, intelligence chiefs be prohibited from making public statements for
a limited time was paving the way for a Nazi state.
One can easily
visualize how the Iranians and Islamic extremists observing such grotesque
behavior can mistakenly conclude that Israelis are self-destructing.
normal Western democratic country, the responsible media would condemn and
effectively marginalize former political leaders or officials making such
inflammatory remarks. Alas, in Israel, much of the media thrive on such
outbursts and it is thus hardly surprising that we continue to fail so abysmally
in the war of ideas.
This issue has no bearing on freedom of expression.
We can take pride in the fact that despite the external threats confronting us,
we remain a feisty democracy.
And the forthcoming elections are likely to
demonstrate that the vast majority of the nation supports the security policy of
this government including its strategy regarding the Palestinians and
In any healthy society there are certain conventions to which those
engaged in public life are obliged to adhere. When abroad, politicians and
public officials should be emphasizing the issues we hold in common rather than
conveying divisive and destructive messages. Israel displays a lack of civic
responsibility when people like former prime minister Olmert or retired heads of
intelligence services uninhibitedly promote their personal agendas outside this
country in a manner which jeopardizes our future well-being by minimizing the
threats confronting us. The damage such behavior inflicts on our global status
cannot be underestimated.The writer’s website can be viewed at
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