Grumpy Old Man: …or your pizza is free!

Not every screwup rates a commission of inquiry, but we’d better start paying attention to a few of our national maladies.

Gal Hirsch (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Gal Hirsch
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
In February 2014, a fracking well in southwestern Pennsylvania blew up, killing a contractor and injuring a worker. The blast was felt or heard for kilometers around.
A local resident told an area news outlet that the explosion “sounded like a jet engine going five feet above your house.”
Another said “the house just sort of shook, and there was a big, loud bang.”
Early the following week, citizens of nearby Bobtown found the following message from Chevron in their mailbox: “We value being a responsible member of this community and will continue to strive to achieve incident-free operations.
We are committed to taking action to safeguard our neighbors, our employees, our contractors and the environment....”
According to blogger and Philadelphia Daily News writer Will Bunch, the US energy giant knew it had a serious public relations issue on its hands.
“Tucked inside the envelope,” he wrote, “was a gift certificate to Bobtown Pizza, courtesy of Chevron.”
Like many others who reported on the incident, Bunch couldn’t let the irony drift away like the savory aroma of a oncehot pie.
“Before you say something like, ‘Boy, is that chintzy,’ you should know that was just the beginning, that the coupon also entitles the holder to a 2-liter soda. Is there a catch? Well, sort of – the certificate is good for a ‘special combo only.’” He headlined his blog entry as follows: “The Chevron Guarantee: Our well won’t explode… or your pizza is free!” HERE IN Israel, we have a similar approach.
It’s called “yihye b’seder” (it’ll be fine) disease, sibling to “smoch alai” (trust me) disorder and first-cousin to “im koreh mashehu, titkasher elai” (if something goes wrong, call me) syndrome. Unfortunately, if something does go wrong – and there are good chances it will, considering the way people work around here – there’s no money- back guarantee. Not even a free pizza.
This approach was most recently on display with the appointment of Brig.-Gen.
(res.) Gal Hirsch as police commissioner.
Hirsch, 51, lived the Israeli military success story. He was a paratrooper who came up through the ranks to lead a secretive unit. He was known for his bravery and tenacity.
He was also known for doing things his way. Once, while far behind enemy lines in Lebanon, he turned off the only communications link he had with his superiors because he and his men were lagging behind in their timetable and he feared he would be ordered to withdraw before completing the mission – which, it’s said, he pulled off with success, but just barely, drawing a severe reprimand and almost being drummed out of the service.
Just about everywhere he went, Hirsch stepped on feet. His soldiers loved him, but his bosses were often wary. One officer called him “a little Arik Sharon, but without the bluster.”
Hirsch’s sparkle ran out during the Second Lebanon War, when as commander of the regional division responsible for the frontier with Lebanon, he came under harsh criticism over the cross-border kidnapping that had sparked the whole thing. Later, he raised more than a few eyebrows for a wartime battle in which at least a dozen IDF soldiers were killed and more wounded, with many of these casualties being blamed on what was later called inadequate planning.
Before the findings of the inquiry panel that looked into the kidnapping could be published, Hirsch resigned from the IDF, knowing the report would not be kind. He remained largely out of the public eye until late August, when Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tapped him to head a police force that for the past several years has been stumbling from one appalling embarrassment to the next.
The problem, though, was that Erdan’s nominee, at least indirectly, was being investigated by the FBI regarding arms deals.
When this became known, the minister doubled down rather than admit that the vetting process had been less than stellar.
And Hirsch, almost as boyish looking as the 44-year-old Erdan, seemed to tap the inner tenacity that once led him to shut off his radio while deep inside Lebanon, continuing to insist not only that he was still interested in the job, but that he expected to get it.
It wasn’t just “smoch alai” disorder.
It was “smoch alai” disorder and “yihye b’seder” disease – together, in the same sickbed, and with no immediate cure, antidote or therapy in sight, for it wasn’t until deep into September that a thoroughly chastened Erdan climbed down from his tree and told Hirsch he’d better withdraw his candidacy before the minister beat him to it.
In the end, “im koreh mashehu, titkasher elai” syndrome found its way into the mix, except that it took close to a month for anyone to answer the phone.
NONE OF this should really come as any surprise. Among developed nations, we’re probably in the lead, or near it, for the number of major inquiries per decade tasked with looking into bumbles, bloopers or blunders of national magnitude that could have been avoided if only people in positions of responsibility had done their job. After all, it’s almost a given that a highly regarded ex-judge, general or public figure will be brought out of mothballs at some point to head a blue-ribbon panel charged with looking into a screwup of some kind.
The Agranat Commission (1973) investigated the reasons behind the lack of preparedness for the Yom Kippur War. The Kahan Commission (1982) delved into whether Israelis bore any responsibility for Sabra and Shatilla. The Bejski Commission (1985) looked into whether rigged bank shares played a role in the collapse of the stock market. The Landau Commission (1987) studied Shin Bet interrogation methods after Palestinian prisoners died in custody and an IDF officer of Circassian background was railroaded on charges of spying.
The Shamgar Commission (1995) investigated the Rabin assassination. The Or Commission (2000) looked into the way police handled severe Arab rioting in the North at the outset of the second intifada.
The Winograd Commission (2006) studied the events leading up to the Second Lebanon War and the way it was conducted.
The Turkel Commission (2010) shone its light into whether naval commandos and those who sent them to intercept the Gaza flotilla could have performed their jobs with a bit more aplomb.
(And these were just the full-blown commissions. There have been many lesser committees and panels established to look into major screwups, lacking only the power to issue stern recommendations with legal teeth.) Of course, no inquiry of any type will be established to look into Gilad Erdan’s methods of decision-making, nor will anyone investigate why Gal Hirsch stubbornly refused to do the right and gentlemanly thing the minute it became known that the FBI was snooping around.
These are relatively minor affairs and reflect the failings of individuals, not entire apparatuses. Yet they are indicative of deeply entrenched attitudes and approaches that have come to be a given across the board here, and it is individuals who comprise and lead the apparatuses.
You might expect to find such approaches only in developing nations, where the idea of best practices has yet to be ingrained, and the International Organization for Standardization and other bodies promoting quality in the public and private sectors have yet to gain a foothold.
But no, they’re alive and well in the land of “smoch alai” and its related maladies.
And no, a free combo pizza and bottle of Fanta will not do the trick.