The IDF is the central icon of Israeli culture. It stands for security and dedication to nationhood, personal sacrifice, and morality. It often makes room for handicapped individuals who do not meet its physical demands, but wish to serve in order to affiliate with the popular ethos. Individuals who evade service may find themselves not chosen for desirable positions or other opportunities later in life.
Like any large organization, it does not live up to the mythic accolades assigned to it. It has been charged with tolerating the abuse of Palestinians by its soldiers. Ranking officers have avoided traveling to some countries after they retire out of concern that they may be detained on account of war crime charges brought by Arab sympathizers or left wing activists.
The IDF has a its own police, investigators, and courts that deal with charges of abuse, as well as other infractions likely to arise in a military with several hundred thousand young adults, as well as older reservists and professional cadres. Activists often criticize their leniency. In recent months the IDF was not lenient in deal with two generals who were found to have lied about what started out as modest irregularities. Both had erred in allowing family members to drive civilian-type vehicles owned by the military, and then claimed that they themselves were responsible for accidents that occurred. They were cashiered out of the service on the ground that the IDF does not tolerate falsehood.
At the top of the IDF pyramid is the Chief of the General Staff. He is the commanding officer with a rank equivalent to an American Lieutenant General (three stars). Personal morality as well as military qualifications are among the criteria for choice and assumed to adhere to the individual during his time in office. (The IDF has lots of women recruits and officers, some of whom have reached high office and public prominence, but it remains within the realm of reality rather than sexism to use male designators in connection with the position of Chief of the General Staff.)
The current Chief of the General Staff is due to retire in less than a month, and the chosen successor won his position under one cloud and currently is in the shade of another. The selection process was marred by a clumsy effort to influence the choice. This produced an official inquiry and a media frenzy focused on senior officers who were said to be despoiling the IDF''s good name.
Yoav Galant was the man chosen in August as the next Chief of the General Staff. There was mumbling that the choice was early on account of Defense Minister Ehud Barak''s personal problems with the incumbent Chief of the General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. Insofar as Barak is chronically mentioned as having personal problems with just about everyone he must work with, this has not brought great tarnish to Ashkenazi''s reputation.
Galant was chosen after a long career with increasing responsibilities, and was meant to have several months to accustom himself to new tasks. What began as an item entered at the end of news programs concerned with his personal property dealings, however, has now reached the top of the public agenda with investigations by the State Comptroller and Attorney General.
Time is short. Ashkenazi is due to end his term in less than a month, commentators are saying that the country cannot continue without a Chief of the General Staff, and both the Attorney General and State Comptroller are known for long and thorough inquiries before reaching their conclusions.
The allegations about Galant concern improprieties in how he acquired land surrounding his home, and the creation of a road connecting it with the highway. We hear comments about inaccuracies in his reports, mistakes by other authorities, and a backdated approval. Whatever the truth and the decisions to be reached by official inquiriess, Galant''s case in the eyes of the public could not have been helped by a photograph that appeared on the front page of today''s Ha''aretz.
In a country where the vast majority lives in an apartment cheek by jowl with neighbors and 100 square meters (about 1000 square feet) is considered a large abode, the image of size, elegance, space, and vegetation does not square with the idealized image of the common man as soldier.
Those who thoughts about salvation run to faith rather than force can begin today''s Ha''aretz with the cartoon rather than with the picture on page one..
It features David (Dudi) Zilberschlag, a well known ultra-Orthodox who appears frequently in the media and created a chain of free kitchens to feed the poor. The chain carries the name of Zilberschlag''s son who died two months after his Bar Mitzvah after suffering for years from a rare metabolic disorder. There are nine other children in the family.
Zilberschlag won a place in the headlines and then the cartoon due to a legal dispute with another ultra-Orthodox. The adversary is said to have hired an actress to invite Zilberschlag to a hotel room for a massage, and produce an embarrassing situation that would ruin his standing in the ultra-Orthodox community. Zilberschlag appeared on prime time news programs to explain that the young lady had managed to get him out of his pants, but that he stopped short of getting into her pants. The cartoon portrays him saying, "With the help of God I withstood temptation."