When the dust settles over the Yoav Galant appointment scandal, it will make a
fascinating business-ethics case study. The appointment has been enveloped in
controversy from the very beginning of the process, yet we would be hardpressed
to identify a single salient legal breach or even a Left-Right political divide
behind the dispute. All of the perplexing incidents have been ethical breaches,
though it is too soon to know whose they are.
The scandal began, in my
opinion, when it was decided not to extend Chief of General Staff Gabi
Extensions are the norm, and Defense Minister Ehud
Barak gave no explanations as to why he was making an exception.
has not given any explanation why Ashkenazi can’t stay on the job even one extra
day now that there is no appointee to replace him.) But things really began to
heat up during the interview process, when the mysterious “Gallant document”
This document purported to show that Gallant had hired a PR
firm to help him discredit competing candidates for the job.
document genuine? Such a step would likely be quite legal, but certainly conduct
unbecoming an officer.
Did an enemy of Gallant forge it? Same dichotomy.
(Ultimately it was shown that the document was a forgery.) The latest
controversy surrounds Gallant’s land dealings in Moshav Amikam.
seems not be in dispute is that Gallant extended his house and his yard using
aggressive tactics that did not exactly conform to the legally prescribed
planning and approval process, and that there is no evidence these excesses
reached levels that would trigger a criminal investigation according to Israeli
norms. (Even if it did, to the best of my knowledge, having ever committed a
crime does not disqualify someone from serving as chief of General Staff
forever.) When information about these dealings was presented to the Turkel
Committee, which is charged with vetting the appointment, they did not see them
as an obstacle to Gallant’s nomination.
What happened since the
committee’s conclusion is a grab-bag of all the problems with the governance of
public administration in Israel. A private NGO, the Green Movement, went to
court to challenge Gallant’s appointment on grounds that his land dealings made
him unsuitable for the job. That’s two strikes: Strike one is that courts are
meant to adjudicate disputes, not to pass judgment on the political decisions of
elected officials. There is no real legal issue involved in the Gallant
Strike two is that in other legal systems, private NGOs have
no standing in court, insofar as they are not parties to the dispute. Even if
there was a genuine court case involving a genuine environmental issue, NGOs
should not be allowed to join the suit as an actual party to the case; rather,
they can act as witnesses or submit a “friend of the court” brief to give the
court the benefit of their sometimes considerable knowledge and
Once this legal challenge was allowed, Attorney-General Yehuda
Weinstein was called upon to defend the government’s appointment. He decided he
would not automatically defend the appointment; rather, he would first examine
This is a bit of a problem, insofar as he is the
government’s lawyer and is charged with representing it. But ultimately this
conduct is not inherently problematic. Being the lawyer for the government is
not the same as being a lawyer for a private individual; the government
represents the people and to a certain extent, and so should the attorney-
About a century ago, Frederick Lehmann, who was the US
solicitor-general (a position that has much in common with the Israeli
attorney-general), famously enunciated the right of the solicitor-general to
decline to defend the government, stating: “The United States wins its point
whenever justice is done its citizens in the courts.”
attorney-general had already been investigating the appointment, this particular
defense did not seem to present any obstacles. However, it turned out that State
Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had also been investigating Gallant, and at the
last moment presented some new adverse findings to Weinstein.
had very little time to weigh these findings, and Gallant had even less time to
respond to them. As a result, Weinstein did not feel he could defend the
appointment in court.
Gallant claims that Lindenstrauss went too far in
conducting his own investigation without ongoing cooperation with the
attorney-general and in bringing the new information to Weinstein’s attention at
such a late stage. Gallant claims that instead of overseeing government actions,
as he is called upon to do, Lindenstrauss was intervening in them with his own
I don’t have any particular opinion whether Gallant is qualified
to serve as chief of General Staff, either professionally or ethically. But the
way his appointment was torpedoed is a case study of a broken governance
Fundamentally it is the government’s job to decide who is
suitable to be chief of General Staff, and the government decided on
Certainly appointees to such sensitive and senior positions
should be carefully vetted, and the attorney-general needs to advise the
ministers, who are not necessarily legal experts, on any legal
An appointments committee is not essential, but it has
many advantages in ensuring thorough and transparent examination of
Both the attorney-general and the committee approved the
But the courts and private NGOs have no role in this
process, and the state comptroller’s job is mainly to bring lacunae to the
public’s attention after the fact, not to play an active role in the functioning
of the executive branch.
The Gallant appointment fiasco is a classic
example of an ancient adage: “Too many cooks spoil the
broth.”firstname.lastname@example.org Asher Meir is research director at the
Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, an independent institute in the Jerusalem
College of Technology (Machon Lev).