How do you say "accountability" in Hebrew? You don't. We not only lack a good
word for it, but fail to implement what it stands for. We value authority and
responsibility, but don't step up (or step down) to pay the price when we mess
The official term is Achrayut Divuach (Reporting responsibility)
but this doesn't seem comprehensive enough. Another approved term is
Achrayutiyut, which sounds something like "responsibilityness".
The terms are
similar in Hebrew, but should not be confused. Responsibility describes what we
are obligated to do, and accountability means that we must answer to someone for
the resulting consequences.
Another important difference is that you
can delegate responsibility, but not accountability. You may appoint
subordinates to do the job for you, but you are still liable and blameworthy if
the outcome isn't sufficient.
In a special report by the State
Comptroller following the 2010 Carmel fire, “special responsibility” was
assigned to the Interior and Finance Ministers, and "overall responsibility" was
laid on the Prime Minister and the Public Security Minister. The first term
means nothing and led to nothing, and the second term is obvious but bore no
Instead of accountability, we got deflection of
responsibility and self glorification. In a memorial ceremony held a year after
the fire, the narrator praised the PM's actions and described him as being "the
first to understand the magnitude of the event." It was awkward and
The famous Israeli "Sentry Syndrome" (Tismonet HaShin Gimel)
describes a tendency to make the lowest ranking person a scapegoat, instead of
asking those in charge to answer for their faults. It was coined after the
"Night of the Gliders" terror attack in 1987, when the blame was placed on the
soldier guarding the gate, who acted poorly. Senior officers were only charged
after public pressure.
5 days after the attack, before completion of the
investigation, the late PM Rabin addressed the Knesset. Beginning with the words
"The… security policy… has passed the test," He pretty much hinted what level
would be blamed.
Following Israel's missed opportunities in the Second Lebanon
War in 2006, the Winograd Commission imposed the primary responsibility on the
Prime Minister, for failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence.
The PM himself gallantly declared that he would share the responsibility with no
But, looking back, what practical public or personal price did the
PM pay? It seems only the military accepted responsibility and lost talented
officers like Brigadier General Gal Hirsch. This talented and patriotic officer
is now contributing to Israel's defense as a reservist, but hopefully we will
see him back in the ranks, making it to the very top.
A recent example
is Colonel Erez Viner, ousted from the IDF for his part in the Harpaz scandal. I
believe the system once again found its sentry.
We make the same mistake after
car accidents. It's easier to blame the driver and move on, until the next time,
when we are again shocked that an overloaded trailer truck is driven for 12
hours straight by a serial traffic violator. Not enough is done to identify and
fix systemic factors, such as company responsibility and external enforcement
There are times when this phenomenon is identified and prevented, as
in the 2005 case of Border Policeman Wael Sabit, who used excessive force
towards a Palestinian and then lied about it in court. Although clearly guilty,
the judge revoked the prosecution's course of action of finding one junior
soldier guilty for a systemic failure.
In a 2009 case, a judge refused
to accept that a worker was to bear sole responsibility for causing
death-by-negligence of a co-worker, when finding that his superiors were not
even questioned by police.
Some say that in the past, leaders
demonstrated accountability. Rabin resigned in 1977 after his wife Lea's foreign
bank account was exposed.
However, other resignations do not prove this point,
but the contrary. After the Yom Kippur War, Agranat committee amazingly laid all
responsibility on the military and the Chief of the General Staff resigned.
Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan resigned only after public criticism.
In 1983, the
Cahan committee declared PM Begin responsible for not weighing all expected
outcomes of allowing the Phalangist militia into Sabra and Shatila refugee
camps. He did not resign until later that year, after deterioration in his
Back to our time. Wealthy Israeli "tycoons" draw huge
salaries and bonuses even when things go south, while "haircuts" are implemented
and the public loses its savings. It is totally unacceptable that they are
allowed to gamble away people's money without personal accountability for their
Accountability means that actions have consequences. When
these actions are crimes, the price should be severe punishment. In Israel,
there is a sense that sentences should be balanced and proportional, instead of
serving as a deterrent. Financial penalties are too low and criminals are back
on the streets too soon, after "paying their price to society." With our prisons
managed so well, some may even calculate that the risk is worth it, for worse
comes to worst, they will spend a couple of years getting superb medical
treatment, good food and a college degree.
A key condition for
accountability is the establishment of clear borderlines of responsibility. In
our governmental system, too many areas are blurry and subject to
interpretation. In a hasty and amateurish move, the Ministry of "Industry, Trade
and Labor" was transformed to "Economy and Trade." Who is now responsible for
While we're at it, may I ask who is accountable for our
recently discovered 40 billion Shekel deficit? Apparently no one.
Accountability should not mean automatic decapitation when a mistake is made. If
we oust our leaders when they err, we will end up with inexperienced leaders,
making worse mistakes. Leaders should act wisely, humbly accept responsibility
for mistakes, and learn from them.
Of course if radical deviation from
reasonable judgment or negligence is identified, leaders should be expected to
This is an era when politicians promise us a better future using
vague facebook posts. Let us hope they live up to their promises and exercise
accountability.The writer is a former Israel Air Force pilot and
founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd.