A tale of two commissions

What precedent does Zeiler set for Winograd?

zeiler 88 (photo credit: )
zeiler 88
(photo credit: )
The Zeiler Commission's harsh personal recommendations concerning Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi and other senior officers are creating a certain expectation that the next commission to produce its report will follow this precedent. But though many will be disappointed, there are few signs the Winograd Commission, due to deliver its interim report on the second Lebanon war next month, will follow the same path. Of course there are several similarities between the two panels. Both have the same status, not full-blown State Commissions of Inquiry for which the Supreme Court president appoints the members, but lower-level government-appointed commissions. Both are headed by former district court presidents, with 56 years on the bench between them, who have chaired public committees and commissions in the past. And both panels are investigating events with the potential, as we saw this week, to unseat some of the most powerful figures in the country. But this is where the similarity ends. It is still difficult to predict how damaging the Winograd interim report will prove for the political and military leadership, but the commission's approach is certainly different than that of Zeiler's. It begins with the personalities of the men heading the commissions. While Zeiler was known to terrorize the lawyers of Jerusalem and often delivered verdicts in 30 seconds, Winograd, an 80-year-old Rotarian (seven years older than Zeiler) has an altogether more peaceful disposition. Perhaps that's why he's chaired three times as many commissions as Zeiler; the politicians know he's not the kind of man to rock the boat. That's probably also the reason each was chosen for his particular job. In the case of the Perinians, then-internal security minister Gideon Ezra and justice minister Tzipi Livni, who appointed Zeiler, wanted a quick, no-holds barred investigation. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in selecting Winograd, was after an altogether more understanding chairman. The parameters of the investigations are also totally different. While Zeiler's commission investigated an isolated case of problematic contacts between the police in the South and the Perinian crime family, Winograd is looking into an entire war and the military and strategic policies leading up to it over the space of six and a half years. That adds up to a much longer list of potential politicians, officers and officials on the receiving end. In addition, Winograd's mandate includes the investigation of policy, not just events. All this will leave the Winograd Commission little time to work out exactly who is to blame for what and to what degree. To draw conclusive, well-founded personal recommendations on every senior figure involved with security policy on the northern border over the last six years would take years of research. Right now, the impression is that the commission will prefer to deliver a more general verdict on the system as a whole, without referring much to individual blame. It seems unlikely the interim report will contain recommendations affecting the professional future of any of those involved, since no warning letters have been sent, as would be required by law. But there is another possibility. Although the Winograd Commission might not actually recommend anyone be fired or demoted like Zeiler did, were it to conclude that any of the responsible figures had failed in their duty that might be enough to make their position immediately untenable due to the current public atmosphere. One of the commission's members, Prof. Ruth Gavison, reportedly favors such a course, while Winograd is apparently more conservative in his intentions. Zeiler's clear-cut verdict, and the speedy way in which both Karadi and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter acted upon it, might convince Winograd and the other members of his commission that the public excepts nothing less than a clear determination on who exactly is to blame.