Israeli society encourages individualism. For anyone who has ever visited the tiny country, or ever met an Israeli that is like saying the sun comes up every day. It is, rather, stating the obvious.
Asking questions and challenging authority are part of the national character. It is a way of being, a way of finding one’s place in the world that is deeply rooted in the intellectual traditions of the people in both its ancient and recent history stemming from Abraham to Moses to the sages whose arguments for the sake of heaven fill the pages of the Talmud.
At the turn of the last century when Jews in increasingly large numbers began finding their way to the mostly hostile terrain of the ancestral homeland, it was usually the hard-driven, self-motivated, undauntable ones of high resolve and daring initiative who stayed on, staking roots into an ever-yielding soil of freedom and independence.
Sixty-four years after the country was established, and more than 100 years after the modern return to Zion began in earnest, the paradigm of the strong, unflinching, tell-it-like-it-is individual still commands respect and praise. There is no retreat for this individual from saying what is on his or her mind, from saying “what needs to be said,” from tossing the verbal grenade into the crowded marketplace of public ideas and debate.
Thus we have seen over the last few weeks, the pages, airwaves and blogospheres of Israeli media have veritably spilled over like a cornucopia overflowing a substantial treasure of news coverage of the high-profile individuals who have publicly criticized the prime minister and the defence minister for their views concerning safeguarding the country from the perils of a nuclear Iran.
The highly regarded former head of the Shin Bet (the internal security service), Yuval Diskin, excoriated the government for its Iran policies. In doing so he added his doubts to those of the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, who had already spoken out against the government repeatedly.
Like gunslingers in the old westerns who suddenly show up at the saloon surrounded by shady and untrustworthy characters, they speak their minds, their virtue and courage apparent in their honesty.
But in this case, is their honesty so very virtuous?
And is courage really required to feed Israel’s attentive, highly polemical, ideologically driven cadre of media and foreign observers?
The substance of their or any gunslingers’ opinions regarding Iran is not the issue. Well-informed, well-intended, reasonable men of common cause and common purpose will always differ on their respective interpretations of facts and possible outcomes. Nor is their right to offer their opinions
At issue is the manner by which they speak, that is, always to the camera but not, where it might be truly more effective, in camera.
For example, Diskin told a receptive media and lay audience at a conference two weeks ago in Kfar Saba, that he could not trust Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak in handling the Iranian crisis due to their “messianism.” It was uncertain what he meant by that term in relation to the prime minister and defence minister.
Equally uncertain was the former Shin Bet chief’s notion of the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of democratic process. For, along with his florid disparagement of Netanyahu and Barak, Diskin also weighed in against the social justice protesters last summer, whose leaders he said “weren’t ready to pay a personal price in order to achieve their goals.”
He unfavourably compared the “revolutionists in Rothschild Boulevard and those in Tahrir Square.”
“In Tahrir Square, Diskin said, “people paid a price for their principles. If that doesn’t happen here, all this social justice thing will be another summer festival in Israel. I think that the people who led it, most of them, aren’t really willing to pay a price for it,” he said.
What was Diskin implying?
Was he suggesting that unless the Rothschild Boulevard protests led to bloodshed, they were simply playthings, or “festivals,” as he unkindly called them, in the minds of the participants and the leaders?
Was he suggesting that the response of the government and the Knesset in appointing the Trachtenberg Committee to study the issues underpinning the Rothschild protests, provide policy guidelines and legislative guidance was inadequate?
And even if the committee and the Knesset ultimately do fail to solve all of the problems, what according to Diskin, in a democratic, civil society that is governed by the rule of law, would have been the proper behaviour by the protesters?
What price was he looking for them to pay to help advance Israeli society?
Not all gunslingers, I suppose, are like Gary Cooper. –MBD