The proposal by Gilad Erdan, Minister of Internal Security to appoint Gal Hirsch to head the police provides us with some insight into the workings of Israeli society and politics, as well as some general lessons about difficult decisions.
The appointment is one of the most important that can made in Israel, second only to that of the commanding general of the IDF. Both are done upon the recommendation of the minister in charge (Defense or Internal Security), in consultation with the Prime Minister who most likely has a veto, then the candidate must muster or not with a committee of present or former judges, senior civil servants, and other worthies with a broad mandate to check on his or her record, and ultimately a vote by the ministers who comprise the Government.
This appointment has produced a louder than normal clamor, even for usually noisy Israelis who are charged with political responsibilities, or the commentators and citizens who poke themselves into the process.
Friday's newspapers (i.e., the key weekend editions) are filled with reviews of Hirsch's career, an official investigation that dealt with his performance in the Lebanon war of 2006, recollections of people who served with him, and the protests expressed by family members of those killed in the Lebanon war. The war began with the kidnapping of soldiers who served under Hirsch's command. Families of six soldiers killed (out of more than 120 who died in the war) created loud all-night demonstrations across from Erdan's home. They chanted Hirsch's faults, and demanded that the minister take further account of an IDF report about the war that mentioned Hirsh's shortcomings.
Among the positive things we hear and read about Hirsch are his brilliance, his heroism, personal morality, and his capacity to plan for contingencies. Among the negatives are his lack of attention to criticism, or to those below him in the chain of command, his lack of rapport with colleagues, and a failure to follow through to assure that his orders are actually implemented. One commentator said that he is so brilliant and speaks so philosophically that underlings have trouble understanding him.
Friday night we heard from two television networks that the police had been investigating Hirsch quietly for some months, due to requests from Kazakastan and Georgia, concerned with allegations of bribery associated with the company he heads that is involved in the selling of armaments. We also hear that the FBI is also involved in investigations.
Hirsch is denying all such allegations, and claiming they are the scurrilous product of those intent on destroying him.
Minister of Internal Security Erdan met with the families of IDF casualties who protested the appointment, indicated his willingness to consider their objections, and received from them a cessation of public protests.
Erdan's comment that he would consider the objections may be the ladder he would use to climb down from a problematic recommendation.
It'll take a while to see if Hirsch's nomination is still alive, and if Erdan has suffered a major blow to his own status, and apparent ambitions to be Israel's first post-Netanyahu Prime Minister..
Parents, spouses, and children of Israeli soldiers who do not come home from battle have a status in the society comparable to Holocaust survivors.
The image of sacred cows is appropriate, even if it is indelicate among those who scorn any worship of idols or animals.
Yet IDF survivor families as well as Holocaust survivors is as complex as anything else in this country.
Along with individuals who never pull themselves out of mourning or anger over a military death, there are those who express pride in the sacrifices made by their son, daughter, spouse, or parent for the sake of Israel. The nation of Israel or the State of Israel (עם ישראל, מדינת ישראל) have the status of holiness among many Jews,
Among Holocaust survivors, the spectrum of political statements ranges from those who demand apocalyptic actions against Israel's enemies, including Palestinians, to those who assert that Jews' experience of suffering demands forgiveness and accommodation with those who have suffered at the hands of Israel.
Prominent in the disputes about this appointment is the standing of the Israel Police.
Senior levels of the force have been sullied in recent months by a series of dismissals or resignations under pressure, one suicide, and one arrest pending trial. Most have been associated with sexual harassment, with the suicide and arrest concerned with corruption touching upon the country's underworld.
The police are not Israel's only institution affected by wrongdoing. The IDF, the country's largest bank, and the Political Science Department of the Hebrew University have been in recent headlines due to the sexual improprieties of senior professionals.
While numerous former police chiefs and other ranking officers have criticized the appointment of any outsider and Hirsch in particular, at least a minority of former chiefs and other ranking officers have urged cooperation with whoever becomes the next chief. While some assert that the service has rid itself of a few bad apples, others acknowledge a faulty or even rotten culture pervasive within the police, that must be cleaned up, preferably by an outsider who owes no loyalties within the organization.
Officials, committees, and the Government will make this decision--in favor or opposed to Hirsch or any subsequent nominee--and it'll be imperfect like all decisions about complex issues. That pretty means all decisions that reach the agenda of government in a democracy. Others that seem destined for imperfection are Israel's pending decision about its natural gas field, Barack Obama's tussle with Congress over Iran, and the chronically hot issues of Europe's posture toward the flow of illegal immigrants, and the latest of daily or more often indications of too many guns in the hands of Americans.
The most recent demonstration of how bad things are on the other side of civilization's borders is the discovery of perhaps 50 or maybe more than 70 dead bodies in a disabled truck on an Austrian highway. It was a refrigerated truck, closed and sealed with migrants who reached Hungary, and wanted someplace better, but who suffocated. Their bodies were so decomposed as to make it initially impossible to determine how many they were.
Another 200 or so had drowned in the same day's report while on their way by rickety craft from Libya to Italy.
What to do?
Issues of refugee status are highly political and difficult to ascertain in individual cases. First world countries try to make entry difficult, and then provide a minimum of care for those who make it through. Opposition comes from established residents who see their jobs threatened, even if the migrants work at jobs the locals do not want. Crimes committed by migrants spur additional protests by people living near them.
Issues are the same if the people at issue speak Spanish as in the US, Arabic or an African language in Europe or Israel. It ain't neat. It ain't pretty. And it's surrounded by dispute.
Somebody has to decide, like the appointment of Gal Hirsch or someone else to be Israel's next police chief. And things go on. Imperfectly.
Just like this or any effort to describe how it's done.