Olmert JPost conference 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Several key participants at The Jerusalem Post’s second Annual Conference in New
York on Sunday pulled no punches in their criticism of the present government’s
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert claimed that Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu had “exaggerated” the Iranian threat with his red line, drawn
during his famous UN speech in September. And the very idea of setting down a
red line as a tactic for stopping the mullahs’ march toward nuclear capability
was challenged by former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, who added that
more time needed to be given for diplomacy and sanctions before military action
Former Mossad head Meir Dagan said that Netanyahu harmed
efforts to prevent the nuclearization of Iran by focusing the world’s attention
on a potential Israeli strike on Iran. This, he said, “transferred the Iranian
issue from a worldwide issue to an Israeli issue.”
Meanwhile on the
Palestinian front, both Olmert and Dagan launched offensives. Olmert received a
mixture of boos and applause for claiming Israel’s strategic position was being
undermined by its “dramatically inadequate” policy toward the
And in an interview on the sidelines of the conference with
the Post and The New York Times, Dagan said that “for its own benefit, Israel
should open a serious dialogue with the Palestinians,” adding, “It’s one thing
to say it. It’s another thing to establish such a dialogue.
We are on the
giving side, they are on the receiving side.”
made by military intelligence and counterterrorism experts with impeccable
credentials, who were, until recently, privy to Israel’s most well-guarded
secrets, and by a former prime minister who is still considered to be well
connected, have made headlines both in Israel and abroad.
Some, such as
Home Front Defense and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, who attacked Olmert
on Army Radio on Monday, have claimed that publicly criticizing a serving
Israeli government – particularly when this criticism is voiced on foreign soil
– is somehow unethical, unpatriotic and illegitimate.
Indeed, a bill
dubbed the “Dagan Law” after the former Mossad head, who has made a series of
controversial statements, including at last year’s Jerusalem Post Conference,
was drafted in 2011 that would prevent former security officials from making
public comments on matters related to their field of expertise without
authorization from the Defense Ministry. Supporters of the bill, such as Likud
MKs Miri Regev and Danny Danon claim the bill would protect Israel from the
damage caused by comments made by Dagan and others.
But in actuality the
stifling of a free exchange of ideas and criticism, particularly among those
most qualified to express these ideas and criticisms, is the real danger to
Israel’s security. After all, it was precisely the lack of independent thinking
in the military establishment that created a collective “misconception” and led
to Israel’s unpreparedness during the Yom Kippur War.
Indeed, what makes
robustly democratic, open societies so much stronger than their autocratic
counterparts is their ability to exercise self-criticism, learn from mistakes
and choose leaders in light of conclusions reached through open debate. If Dagan
and Yadlin, based on their deep familiarity with our military capabilities, and
Olmert, based on his familiarity with high-level decision making processes,
believe that a particular policy being pursued or ignored is detrimental to
Israel, not only should they have the right to speak up, they have a moral
obligation to do so.
If Olmert, Dagan and Yadlin have given away national
secrets (they haven’t) they should be tried for espionage in accordance with the
However, enforcing an atmosphere in which people are compelled to
speak in one voice and walk in lockstep undermines the strength of democracy and
Without criticism and public oversight, leaders are liable to
make terrible mistakes.