A crisis in leadership on the Israeli Left presents a rare opportunity for progress.
Earlier this month, former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Gabi Ashkenazi’s career ended.
And on Tuesday, the phony peace process ended.
In the lead-up to last year’s elections, the media and key political figures were yearning for Olmert’s return to politics.
In July 2008, Olmert was forced to cede leadership of the Kadima party, and so opt out of running for reelection, when then-attorney-general Menahem Mazuz announced he was indicting the premier on corruption charges.
Olmert left office in March 2009 when his government was replaced by Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.
The public abandoned its support for Olmert in the summer of 2006 as a result of his incompetent leadership of the Second Lebanon War. By the end of the summer, Olmert’s approval rating stood at 3 percent. But with the able assistance of the media, and of Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman who saved Olmert’s government by joining it, Olmert was able to weather the storm and keep going despite the public’s lack of faith in his leadership and ardent desire to force him from office.
The media’s romance with Olmert began formally in late 2003, when he followed then-premier Ariel Sharon from the center-right to the far Left. Indeed, as Sharon abandoned his pledges to voters and adopted the platform of the defeated Labor Party of unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, Olmert outflanked him from the Left.
Always a political pugilist, Olmert was eager to attack everyone who opposed Sharon’s withdrawal plan. He had no qualms about using rank demonization to attack his former political allies in the Likud.
It was Olmert’s newfound devotion to the platform of the far Left that won him the support of media heavies like Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea, Ma’ariv’s Ben Caspit and Channel 2’s Amnon Abramovich. They were more than happy to attack as delusional independent investigative reporter Yoav Yitzhak who broke nearly every corruption story regarding Olmert, beginning in 2005.
After four years of desultory, at best, probes between 2009 and 2012, Olmert was indicted in four separate cases on corruption charges. After he was acquitted of most of the charges in his first two trials, his media allies began a campaign to return him to politics. Only Olmert, they said, had a chance to defeat Netanyahu. None of the other leftist party heads had a shot.
But alas, Olmert was otherwise engaged, in his criminal defense. And now that he is a convicted felon, Olmert will never be able to return to politics.
Even his media friends have to cut their losses and find a new leader.
Several years ago, they were certain that they had their man. Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was promoted to the helm of the IDF following his predecessor Dan Halutz’s forced resignation due to his incompetent leadership of the army in the Second Lebanon War.
Ashkenazi was everything the media and the Left love in a leader. He was a general. He was handsome. And he was going to save the IDF from its demoralization. He was going to introduce new training regimens and operational procedures to ensure that the next time the IDF went to war, its victory would be inarguable.
Oh, and he was a leftist. Which meant that even if he failed, no one would ever find out.
And indeed, Ashkenazi’s leadership of the IDF during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 was a failure. As one senior commander put it shortly after the operation ended, “Gabi Ashkenazi marched the army into Gaza, and marched it out again, leaving Hamas in charge and Gilad Schalit behind.”
Officers who wished to take a more constructive approach to fighting, like OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant and Gaza Division commander Brig.-Gen. Moshe Tamir, were immediately placed on Ashkenazi’s enemies list.
Allegations of wrongdoing against Ashkenazi first surfaced three-and-a-half years ago. In August 2010, Abramovich exposed a document on Channel 2 which purported to show that Galant was waging a negative campaign against Ashkenazi and then-Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz to replace Ashkenazi as chief of the General Staff.
Within a week the document was shown to be a forgery. It was concocted by an associate of Ashkenazi’s named Boaz Harpaz. It was leaked to Channel 2 by a senior Defense Ministry official, Gabi Shimoni, a close friend of Ashkenazi.
Rather than pursue the story, which stank to high heaven, the media ignored it. Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein refused to order the police to investigate it. And to the extent that the police had information that indicated illegal behavior by Ashkenazi’s associates beyond the leak and the forgery specifically, they were ordered not to pursue them.
The only reason that the story of the forged document didn’t disappear is because state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss investigated it, and Channel 1’s Ayala Hasson pursued it. And due to their efforts, the police were shamed into investigating.
Now it is apparent that the story of the forged document was part of a much larger abuse of power by Ashkenazi and his loyal foot soldiers.
Earlier this month, Ashkenazi’s closest aides Col. (res.) Erez Winer and former IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu were arrested in connection to rising allegations of mass abuse of power. Since then, a parade of Ashkenazi’s close associates including current Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkott and deputy director-general of the Defense Ministry Betzalel Tribor have been called in for questioning.
The widening probe paints a revolting picture of a mass abuse of power by Ashkenazi, facilitated by senior IDF officers and officials at the Defense Ministry and then covered up by senior officials at the Justice Ministry and the police, with the active collusion of the media.
Ashkenazi, it appears, was positioning himself to become the next prime minister. To this end, he allegedly decided to end the careers of IDF officers who criticized his leadership. And far more egregiously, he actively undermined then-defense minister Ehud Barak, and subverted Barak’s authority and that of the elected government in a bid to force Netanyahu and Barak to toe his timid line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Although the police probe is only at its early stages, and it is far too early to know who if anyone will be indicted for what, as a result of the investigation Ashkenazi’s political aspirations have been destroyed. More important, the permanent bureaucracy, which enabled Ashkenazi to run roughshod over democratic norms in his quest to position himself as the prime minister in waiting, has been weakened.
Ashkenazi’s foot soldiers are all in trouble. And their troubles will likely deter other officers and senior officials from abusing their power in similar ways in the future.
Each new revelation of wrongdoing in the ongoing probe also discredits Ashkenazi’s protectors in the permanent law enforcement bureaucracy.
Olmert’s fall and Ashkenazi’s fall coincide with the implosion of the so-called peace process. For the past generation, allegiance to the phony peace process with the PLO has been the glue that has held the Left together. No matter how opposed to concessions the public became, the leftist establishment maintained its faith and total commitment to continued appeasement of the PLO. In large part they did so because allegiance to the peace process earned them the support and legitimization of the US.
In the absence of any capacity to win the public’s support for continued concessions to the PLO, the Left has used its close ties to the US as a shield from criticism and as valuable leverage against the government. Only the Left, it was said, could protect Israel’s alliance with the US.
Back in January, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon let the truth be known about the nature of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process.
In private remarks reported by Yediot, Ya’alon said, “There are no actual negotiations with the Palestinians. The Americans are holding negotiations with us and in parallel with the Palestinians.
So far, we are the only side to have given anything – the release of murderers – and the Palestinians have given nothing.”
This week, Kerry proved that Ya’alon’s statement was a gross understatement. The US is not acting as a go-between between the sides. It is acting as the PLO’s proxy.
By offering Israel to trade imprisoned Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard for Palestinian terrorist murderers, Kerry transformed the US from the leader in the war against terrorism, into the champion of terrorists. Moreover, he indicated that he views Pollard as a hostage that the US is free to use to extort concessions to terrorists from Israel.
As a result of Kerry’s scandalous behavior, the US media, which for 20 years have enthusiastically supported every US effort to force Israel to make concessions to the PLO, lost their stomach for the show. Everyone from The New York Times to The Washington Post to The Wall Street Journal and network news attacked Kerry for his actions.
To a degree, the US media’s castigation of Kerry was unfair. He only followed the two-state model to its logical conclusion. Since the Palestinians refuse to abandon their goal of destroying Israel, they will never agree to a peace deal with Israel that will require them to live at peace with the Jewish state. As a result, they will never make any concessions to Israel.
The only way to keep this fraudulent negotiating process going is for the US to both coerce Israel into making more and more one-sided concessions to the PLO, such as freeing terrorist murderers form prison, and providing Israel with US payoffs to make the government continue to abide by a fiction. In other words, Kerry had no option other than to offer up Pollard as a hostage to be swapped in exchange for freedom to Palestinian terrorists.
Transforming the US into the proxy of a terrorist organization was just the beginning of Kerry’s failure.
His desperate behavior showed PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas that there are no depths Kerry will not plumb to prolong the fictional peace process.
And so on Tuesday, in an open act of contempt for Kerry, Abbas applied for membership in international bodies, in breach of the foundational requirement of the peace process: that a Palestinian state only be formed as a consequence of a peace agreement with Israel to prevent such a state from gaining independence while in a state of war with Israel.
Until now, it was US pressure on Israel for concessions to the Palestinians that kept the Israeli Left going. Now, without any leadership, with its power base in the permanent bureaucracy weakened, and the US role as mediator wholly discredited not only among the Israeli public, but in the US media, the Left has nothing to latch on to.
If the government uses the opportunity to abandon the two-state paradigm, it stands its best chance in 20 years of succeeding.
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