A view from Israel: Hubris at the top

Corruption and hubris at the top is damaging and diverts focus from where it is needed.

Barak, Olmert, Ashkenazi 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Barak, Olmert, Ashkenazi 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
In a fabulous country such as ours, one would suppose its leadership would be focused on existential issues, social concerns or economic stability.
Instead, the country is faced with yet another case of childish foolishness, this time in the top echelons of Israel’s military.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a draft report on Sunday on the investigation into the so-called “Harpaz document.”
The document was designed to appear as if one of the contenders to become chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, who had been Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s choice to replace chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, had ordered it to be drawn up to promote his own candidacy.
In his report, Lindenstrauss apparently suggested that Ashkenazi was linked to efforts to discredit Barak and Galant, but did not directly point a finger at the former IDF chief.
The document was made public in a Channel 2 news report in August 2010. After its release, police learned that Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz had allegedly forged the document.
Harpaz, a former intelligence officer and an associate of Ashkenazi, denied accusations by police that he forged the document that detailed plans to damage the reputations of senior IDF officers who were contending for the post of chief of staff.
THE REPORT slammed the conduct of Ashkenazi and also criticized Barak over a disturbing feud that developed between the two most senior defense figures in the country at the time. The report took Ashkenazi and his bureau to task for allowing Harpaz to become involved in the affairs of the IDF chief of staff, for collecting dirt on Barak and for failing to notify the state comptroller of the fact that Ashkenazi’s bureau had come into possession of the document.
The draft report ignited another war of words between the two men.
Speaking at a ceremony in which a street was named after him in Or Yehuda this week, Ashkenazi said that he made mistakes and the important thing was to learn the report’s lessons so that antagonistic relations between the defense minister and the chief of staff do not develop again in the future.
On Monday, Ashkenazi said he and his family were subject to an “attack campaign.”
In response, Barak said on Tuesday, “The ones who were attacked... by a small group in the IDF leadership are the spirit of the IDF, the values of truth, and command norms. Israeli democracy was attacked, [as was] the sovereignty of the IDF and the subordination of the chief of staff to the chosen defense minister.”
The problem with this story, regardless for the moment of who is responsible, is how the country’s top leadership could even be involved in such a scenario.
How pathetic sounding this must be to outsiders.
The leaders and commanders of the “invincible” IDF can’t even get their act together and get along? And the top contender for the position is caught in a shady move to acquire property illegally? The public does not have time for this nonsense.
Unfortunately, these types of stories should come as no surprise. The global corruption index, while by no means completely reliable, does suggest that Israel could do better. Two years ago, Israel was listed as standing at 30, while last year, it fell to 36.
Among numerous other instances across the leadership level, Galant’s unethical behavior, not to mention former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s involvement in the scandalous Holyland project in Jerusalem, proves that the index has some value to it.
And if the country’s top leadership is indeed corrupt and devoid of morals, are we not placing our trust in the hands of the wrong people? With so many issues to be concerned with, Israel needs to be focused at all times. Internal division, especially at the top, does nothing but destroy the country’s image.
Israel has become a huge kindergarten with bickering adults fighting to be first in line.
Even top US officials have their hiccups but they nip trouble in the bud in order to stay focused on the real concerns at hand. When General Stanley McChrystal was commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, he gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine. In the subsequent article titled “The runaway general” McChrystal is quoted as mocking senior administration officials including Vice President Joe Biden.
With two major wars being fought at the time, it is hard to imagine that President Barack Obama wanted to deal with a loose-lipped general, let alone fire him.
Yet, that is what he did because Obama was sensible enough to recognize that disrespect and disloyalty at the top, combined with hubris and an inflated ego, is immensely distracting and takes away from the main mission at hand.
And yet, here is Israel, under attack militarily, diplomatically, politically and internally, but instead dealing with frivolous dissent at the decisionmaking level. This is not very comforting.
Perhaps the State Comptroller’s Report will lead to some form of change and perhaps not. Hopefully, it is the former.