(photo credit: Knesset Website)
Winograd Committee member Yehezkel Dror on Wednesday strenuously denied a report carried in the morning by Ma'ariv to the effect that the committee's judgments had been influenced by its desire to see Prime Minister Ehud Olmert remain in office.
"The words that were quoted in a distorted way and attributed to me did not constitute my personal opinion and were said in a conversation with a reporter in which we discussed how the public ought to weigh public issues involving values," Dror said.
"They did not include any kind of statement of opinion regarding any members of government. They absolutely do not reflect my private opinion and were not raised in any discussion of the Winograd Committee," he continued.
The Ma'ariv report triggered a huge political controversy in which members of the opposition charged that the panel had been biased in favor of the government all along.
An official statement by the members of the committee, which disbanded immediately after presenting its final report last week, was not entirely free of criticism of Dror.
"There were differences of opinion among us as to what would be the proper way to act after the publication of such a report," according to a written statement released by the committee's former spokesman. "We could not stop anyone among us who wanted to talk in public about the report after it was presented."
"Interpretations of material included in the written report, even if they come from members of the committee, are the sole responsibility of those who make them," the statement added.
Later Wednesday, Dror appeared in public in a discussion about the report and committees of investigation in general, during a symposium held by the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute. The octogenarian academic, who is an expert on strategic decision-making, was the clear focus of attention during the three-hour discussion.
"I regard it as one of my professional responsibilities to talk to the public and explain to them how to make decisions," he said in explaining why, among the five Winograd Committee members, he was the only one so far to speak in public. "When I do so, I analyze the process of decision-making, but I don't give my own opinion," he said.
Dror explained that in deciding whether Olmert should be punished, each individual should take into account two factors. The idea of retributive justice, that is, punishing someone who had made mistakes, and the consequences of such punishment for external and subsequent factors such as the peace process or the stability of government. Each person, he said, must weigh the importance of each factor and strike his own balance. He said he did not say what the balance should be or what the balance was for him.
Regarding the committee's failure to publish personal recommendations regarding the leadership during and before the Second Lebanon War, Dror said, "It is my tendency to concentrate more on future problems."
Dror and the committee were strongly attacked by law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who said the public was losing its faith in the political system because politicians did not take responsibility for their actions and resign when they failed.
Kremnitzer added that although the committee could not have fired the prime minister, it could have recommended firing public servants or ministers who had failed to do their duty.
"The committee had a clear responsibility to investigate the procedures and the decisions of the people [concerned], so that the public would know and be able to take action now or in the future," he continued.
Kremnitzer sharply criticized the committee for publishing interim and final reports adding up to 860 pages because their length would discourage the public from reading them.
At the same time, he said that the only body that could have effectively investigated the war and reached accurate conclusions would have been a state commission of inquiry, whose members are appointed by the president of the Supreme Court and would therefore be independent. (The Winograd Committee was a government committee appointed by Olmert and then-defense minister Amir Peretz.) "They appointed members who they figured would be convenient for them," charged Kremnitzer. "After all, the prime minister and defense minister did not want to commit suicide."
"In the end," he continued, looking straight at Dror, "you fulfilled their expectations."
Kremnitzer said the worst failure of the committee was not to send cautionary letters to those who stood to be hurt by its findings. In the interim report, the committee specifically wrote that Olmert, Peretz and former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz were responsible for the failures involved in deciding to go to war and the process of making that decision. "Olmert, Peretz and Halutz should have been given the right to defend themselves," said Kremnitzer. "The committee torpedoed itself. By not giving them the chance to present their side, it did not come up with a document that will enable the public to reach well informed conclusions."
Other symposium participants blasted those who had demanded that the Winograd Committee make concrete recommendations regarding those responsible for the failures.
"Our democracy is sick," said Israel Democracy Institute head Arik Carmon. "People are increasingly alienated from the political system. I want to consider the Winograd Committee in that context. I want to consider the 'legalization' of the political process, wherein the only thing the people want to know is whether a politician is innocent or guilty. The Knesset is not fulfilling its task of supervising and criticizing the government. The establishment of a judicial committee of inquiry is meant to let someone else decide who's right. The culture of these committees is anti-politics."
Hebrew University political science professor Shlomo Avineri declared that the reason the government established the institution of the judicial committee of inquiry in the first place was to buy time and appease the public in the face of serious government failures.
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