Ashkenazi got it right

The civilian justice system has a thing or two to learn from the military.

By JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL
March 4, 2010 13:25
3 minute read.
Ashkenazi got it right

ashkenazi flag 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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We recurrently hear the refrain that the IDF must not judge itself. Whether implied or explicitly stated, the bottom line is that military justice is deemed suspect.

Indeed the Goldstone Report’s most unrelenting theme was that IDF inquiries into its own troops’ conduct in Operation Cast Lead aren’t to be trusted and must be re-evaluated via exhaustive judicial probes.

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There is actually a lot to be said for an independent body probing alleged misdeeds by the IDF, if only to offset the international repercussions of distorted assaults such as Goldstone’s.

But earlier this week, when Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi ousted the Gaza Division’s ex-commander, Brig.-Gen. Moshe “Chico” Tamir, from active service, he effectively put the lie to copious innuendo that threatens to undermine the IDF’s credibility.

Ironically, at almost the same moment, Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Rachel Greenberg cast some doubt on our civilian judicial processes when she lightly rapped senior oncologist Dr. Arie Figer on the knuckles for ruthlessly extorting bribes from terminal cancer patients and their desperate families.

DISSIMILAR AS the cases are, some comparisons are valid. Both cases involved extremely talented individuals who contributed greatly in their own fields and are capable of contributing more. Both defendants enjoyed strong backing from colleagues who spoke up for their professional attributes. Both famous protagonists were convicted.

Tamir agreed to a plea-bargain for letting his 14-year-old son drive a military all-terrain vehicle, with which the boy sideswiped and damaged a civilian vehicle. Tamir initially took the blame for the accident, falsely claiming he had been driving the ATV.

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Tamir, considered one of the most promising IDF combat officers, committed a minor transgression compared with the heartless exploitation by Figer, a physician whose specialty requires a most compassionate and benevolent approach. Dozens of complaints were filed against the Ichilov Hospital department head.

Tamir, a man who demonstrated selflessness time and again, was cast out of the service to which he altruistically devoted his energies, often putting his life and limb on the line. Figer, who demonstrated himself to be Tamir’s diametrical antithesis, was sentenced to six months of community service, a paltry (by his standards) NIS 75,000 fine, another NIS 100,000 in compensation to aggrieved patients and a  14-month suspended sentence.

The judge claimed that the issue of moral turpitude “slipped” her mind, despite the severity of the breach of trust, exploitation and extortion from the most vulnerable of victims.

The message the civilian judge thus sent Figer’s counterparts in other sensitive positions is that the law can be lenient, no matter how outrageous and hardhearted their offenses. Justice was certainly not served by Greenberg’s decision and was even more acutely sabotaged by her mind-boggling omission.

An unrepentant Figer, indeed, stated after the proceedings that his conduct was “common practice in the medical community.”

ASHKENAZI WASN’T bound to rule as he did. He may have caused the IDF to lose a valuable field commander but he upheld the army’s integrity. His judgment may appear excessively harsh. Tamir’s offense seems insignificant and anyone familiar with the military knows that it’s commonplace.

Yet the fact is that Tamir perjured himself. It may have been on a trifling matter, but Ashkenazi emphasized that he will not abide an untruthful officer, regardless of extenuating circumstances.

Once Tamir was caught in a lie, the only alternative to what Ashkenazi did was to turn a blind eye to perversion of justice. Had Ashkenazi opted to do so, as plenty of his predecessors had in analogous ostensibly trivial cases, he would have added his stamp of approval to a culture of deviating from the truth, while knowingly winking to fellow officers who will fix everything and help cover up minor failings.

The trouble is that minor failings mushroom into bigger ones and in time can cause crucial malfunctions in the military superstructure and the IDF’s ability to defend the nation. With a painful decision against a dedicated officer, Ashkenazi struck a blow against mendacity, arrogance and even, to a degree, stupidity, within the echelons under his jurisdiction.

Ashkenazi sent a message to all IDF commanders about what will not be tolerated. That message was the very reverse of the harmful signal issued by the Tel Aviv court in the Figer case. 

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