There are two issues on our agenda whose details will not interest many of you. But how they are being managed, or not managed, reveals something about government in this tiny Jewish republic.One is the already long running issue of deciding about a gas deal. They other is what may become just as problematic, deciding if Gal Hirsch is fit to be police chief.
What follows is not anti-Semitism. But one must admit that the temptation exists.
By some accounts, Israel has been dithering about a deal with the investors, and the company exploring and developing the gas field for five years. The Government has now passed on a many times revised agreement, but it depends on someone with authority concerned with the regulation of monopolies to accept it. Israel's Antitrust Authority has a professional staff and a head responsible for such things, but the former head resigned, seemingly over his dissatisfaction with the deal then on the table.
The Minister of the Economy has the authority to sign off on the deal in the place of the Anti-Trust Authority, but he refuses. He has said that he wants approval from the entire Knesset, or by the replacement as head of the Anti-Trust Authority. Perhaps the Minister doesn't want to jeopardize a reputation already sullied by a term in prison for corruption. Or perhaps he wants more money for his Sephardi ultra-Orthodox constituency. Or maybe something for himself, packaged in a way that doesn't bring another ticket to the slammer.
One of Israel's prominent business newspapers headlined an article about the former head of the Anti-Trust Authority, "David Gilo was right but not smart."
" . . . Gilo was an unusual figure on the government regulation stage: introverted, quiet, and not a politician. His decision to rescind the compromise agreement caught his colleagues completely by surprise.'He sat in the discussions and didn't open his mouth. We didn't know there was a problem,' . . . His colleagues asserted that he took only competition into consideration, without looking at the general picture. The huge damage to the gas sector . . . includes years of delay in development of the reservoir, delaying billions in state revenues, jeopardizing strategic export deals with Egypt and Jordan, and many other things.Gilo claimed it was not his job to look at the general picture - that was what the government was elected for. Even senior Antitrust Authority officials, however, did not conceal their different opinion, and did not hesitate to disagree with the director general behind closed doors. Gilo was left alone in his self-righteousness within the government, even though he won popularity outside it. . . . he discovered the welcoming arms of the opposition and the social organizations, which saw him as the sole righteous man in Sodom, and now regard him as a holy martyr who chose to sacrifice himself on the altar of the tycoons' interests - if we could only believe it. As for us, we still think being smart is better than being righteous."
Now there are said to be more than 20 candidates for a replacement.
Don't hold your breath until the appropriate officials screen the list, make a nomination, and the nominee passes all the hurdles before taking office. And then decides if the draft agreement about gas merits his or her signature.
Meanwhile, Israeli politicians and activists to the left of center are preaching about competition and demanding a lower price for the consumers of gas, while those to the right of center are preaching about honoring signed contracts with investors, claiming the draft agreement is reasonable, and saying that further delay will keep the gas in the ground and dissuade international firms from working in Israel.
There is an idea that the Knesset can authorize the Government to by-pass the Minister of Economics and approve the deal in the absence of a person at the head of the Anti-Trust Authority. That scheme did not work last time it was tried, but since then there has been a tweaking in the agreement with the investors and gas company that may attract more Knesset support.
On the matter of Hirsch, both the Minister of Internal Security and the Prime Minister are--so far--standing behind his nomination to head the police, but this is sounding like a process that will take a good deal of time if it is not scratched in a hurry. The Attorney General has weighed in, saying that he will begin the investigation of Hirsch's suitability, given complaints associated with his company involved in foreign dealings in the field of security. Hirsch himself says that the charges are fictitious, and associated with his personal enemies. We're also hearing that complaints coming out of Georgia deal mainly with others, and reflect some bitter and personal wrangling at the top of that country's politics.
Most damning are numerous reports that Hirsch's manner of speaking is too highfalutin for ordinary folks to understand, and that he doesn't get along with people. The police is a society as well as a hierarchy, filled with ordinary folks who have not earned advanced degrees from the country's better universities. And reports concerned with Hirsch's military performance concluded that he is not fit for command, and should not be put in such a position again.
Still in his favor are his intelligence and his reputation for morality (provided that is not sullied by what the Attorney General finds), and the lack of candidates at the upper echelon of the police who have avoided the temptations associated with working alongside young women.
Nobody need worry about Israel getting along without gas or a police chief. There's lots of energy around. Reports are that Israel is buying most of its oil from the Kurds. How they get it to the ports is their problem. One needn't poke into where the gas is coming from. Most likely those who know won't tell.
There's an acting police chief, whose term has been extended. Some are betting that he'll end up with the regular job when the politicians realize they made a mistake in overlooking more checks into Hirsch.
We all may be significantly older, or worse, before these issues are behind us.
Mystified? Shouldn't be, if you know anything about Jewish culture.
You want to know more? Open the Talmud. Your archaic Hebrew and Aramaic may not be up to the original, but there are English translations.
Even in English, however, it's not likely to clarify anything that you are likely to understand.
You'll find endless arguments, twisting and turning beyond what you are likely to perceive as the topic at hand, displaying the rabbis' capacity to find implications that a straight thinking Anglo-Saxon would decide are trivial.
Don't expect anything like adherence to Robert's Rules of Order. Talmudic discussions jump from one subject to the other without finishing the first, then go back to something left over, often without finishing anything that seems to be on the table.
Disputes end without a resolution. The rabbis disagreed, and agreed to move on to something else. The original discussion is surrounded on each page by subsequent commentary recorded over the centuries. Experts claim to know the drift of the argument. Skeptics wonder.
One of my acquaintances is an appellate judge who once argued with me that finding justice was the prime goal of any proper court. He described as mistaken the idea that justice delayed is justice denied. This judge had been cited as a likely candidate for the Supreme Court, but one of his decisions may have gone too far. His opinion extended to 321 pages, about what seemed to others as a simple case of violence in a parking garage.
That judge may be unusual, just as the deal about gas and the appointment of a police chief may not be typical of what reaches the government's agenda. But then again, none of them are unique, and all say something about this country.