Olmert´s rampage (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Isi Leibler 05/08/12)
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We have recently been subjected to a variety of prominent Israelis
publicly besmirching their country to promote their personal agendas
or compensate for their frustrations. However we fail to appreciate
the extent to which these ravings damage our global standing and
embolden those seeking Israel’s destruction.
The most recent outbursts on display at the Jerusalem Post Conference
in New York, in which I participated, received massive global media
coverage and were attended by more than 1200 participants from
throughout North America. Most expected to hear reports on Israel’s
current situation but were thoroughly bewildered when the former
Israeli prime minister and the retired head of the Mossad expressed
views which were more in synch with J Street and the marginal left-
I was not on the panel in which these statements were uttered. Had I
been, this is what I would have sought to convey:
Israel is currently confronting the greatest challenges since 1948.
We face existential threats from a potentially nuclear Iran which
publicly proclaims its determination to wipe us off the map. The
extremist Islamic revival in the Arab world raises doubts whether we
will be retaining our tenuous peaceful relations with the purportedly
moderate neighboring states. Other than in the U.S., Canada and
Australia, our standing in the world has been undermined by virulent
Islamic and indigenous anti-Semitic campaigns of demonization and
delegitimization. Clearly, now is the time for unity and for
responsible Israelis to exercise restraint and avoid offensive
hyperbole when criticizing their government, especially when abroad.
Yet ironically, precisely when rank-and-file Israelis display a
greater consensus towards the security policies of the government
since the great divide over the Oslo Accords, former Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert in New York indulged in historical revisionism, implying
that had he remained in office we would already be at peace with the
Palestinians, apportioning blame on the Israeli government for
failing to achieve peace, and hailing the duplicitous and
intransigent Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as a
genuine peace partner.
He omitted to mention that he negotiated with the Palestinians behind
closed doors without the approval of his cabinet, the government or
the Knesset, and that despite his offer to return to the indefensible
1949 armistice lines, accepting some refugees and having had the gall
to offer to forgo Israel´s control of the Temple Mount, Abbas still
turned him down and did not even bother to make a counter offer. He
accused his own ministers of having discouraged Abbas from accepting
It was not a pleasant spectacle to witness a discredited former
Israeli prime minister heckled and booed by an American Jewish
audience. But Olmert had only himself to blame for this.
Regrettably, in the current jungle of Israeli politics, anything
goes. Olmert subsequently told The New York Times that Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu “was disrespectful of America,” that “America is
not a client state of Israel,” and that the U.S. should not be
perceived as if it “obeyed orders from Jerusalem.” To make such
statements, which will undoubtedly be exploited by anti-Semites,
exemplifies the depths to which Olmert has sunk.
Can anyone imagine former President George Bush, whose country is not
under existential threat, speaking in such disparaging terms about
the policies of his successor? Had he done so, most Americans would
have been outraged.
There was no doubt that Olmert had lost the plot following his CNN
interview in which he made the bizarre assertion that a U.S. right-
wing conspiracy had led to his political downfall. In what sounded
like an adaptation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he claimed
that “millions and millions of dollars transferred from the U.S. by
figures from the extreme right wing” had toppled his government and
thwarted his attempt to achieve a lasting peace.
Equally appalling were the outbursts from former Mossad chief Meir
Dagan, who, displaying contempt for the sensitive position he had
occupied only a year earlier, launched a vitriolic campaign
besmirching Netanyahu and challenging his motives over the Iranian
nuclear threat. A week earlier in Israel, Yuval Diskin, the outgoing
head of the Shin Bet, hysterically questioned the sanity of Netanyahu
and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and denounced them for
being "messianic” and “appealing to the idiot public.”
There may be legitimate grounds for different opinions on the timing
and employment of military force against Iran. But such matters are
not determined by the uninformed public and we must rely on our
elected leaders, operating with the approval of a responsible
government-appointed security committee, to make the final decision.
That is why many of us not privy to the intelligence required for
making a balanced judgment have avoided debating the issue.
Surely we are entitled to expect former intelligence officers who
dissent from government policies to conduct themselves in a sober and
responsible manner even if they harbor animus against Netanyahu for
having failed to grant their personal requests while in office, and,
above all, to avoid undermining the Israeli government’s efforts to
strengthen global sanctions to obviate the need for military action.
Can anyone imagine a retired head of MI5 or the CIA warning the
public that their national leader was a deranged Dr. Strangelove
unfit to lead the country? Would such behavior by a retired
intelligence chief be tolerated in any normal democracy?
To exacerbate the situation, at the Jerusalem Post Conference, Dagan
justified Diskin’s outbursts as “serious” and legitimate
manifestations of freedom of expression. After publicly calling
Environment Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) a “liar,” Dagan warned the
stunned audience that Erdan’s suggestion that upon retirement
intelligence chiefs be prohibited from making public statements for a
limited time was paving the way for a Nazi state.
One can easily visualize how the Iranians and Islamic extremists
observing such grotesque behavior can mistakenly conclude that
Israelis are self-destructing. In a normal Western democratic
country, the responsible media would condemn and effectively
marginalize former political leaders or officials making such
inflammatory remarks. Alas, in Israel, much of the media thrives on
such outbursts, and it is hardly surprising that we continue to fail
so abysmally in the war of ideas.
This issue has no bearing on freedom of expression. We can take pride
in the fact that despite the external threats confronting us, we
remain a feisty democracy. And the forthcoming elections are likely
to demonstrate that the vast majority of the nation supports the
security policy of this government. including its strategy on the
Palestinians and Iran.
In any healthy society there are certain conventions to which those
in public life are obliged to adhere. When abroad, politicians and
public officials should be emphasizing the issues we hold in common,
rather than conveying divisive and destructive messages. Israel
displays a lack of civic responsibility when people like former
Olmert or retired intelligence heads uninhibitedly promote their
personal agendas outside this country in a manner which jeopardizes
our future well-being by minimizing the threats confronting us. The
damage such behavior inflicts on our global status cannot be
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