The attacks on Meir Dagan for his latest comments are what undermine Israeli democracy, not the comments themselves.
Meir Dagan, whose specialty according to Ariel Sharon (the man who appointed him as chief of Mossad) was separating of Arabs’ heads from their bodies, made a series of controversial statements lately. Ignoring for the moment the Ofer Brothers’ trade with Iran mess – the only reason one cannot call the late, unlamented Sammy Ofer a traitor is that he was a citizen of Monaco, not Israel – Dagan focused on two issues. One was the severe danger facing Israel should it attack Iran and continue ignoring the Saudi peace initiative, the other was the adventurism of Barak and Netanyahu.
In what Yediot euphemistically termed ‘closed conversations’ – closed to everyone but Yediot’s reporter, apparently – Dagan said that while in office, he had some ability, when aided by the Chief of Staff and the head of the GSS, to prevent this “stupidity.” He no longer has this ability, and since he is unwilling to accept the responsibility for silence similar to that of high officials prior to the Yom Kippur War, he started talking. Dagan emphasized the point that Israel will not be able to withstand the Iranian counter-offensive, if Barak and Netanyahu manage to actualize their plan. More than anything, he questioned the judgment of the current Israeli leadership.
Naturally, as soon as he opened his mouth, Dagan was attacked by a series of ministers and security people, saying that he “damages Israeli deterrence” and that he should keep his mouth shut since he is a recently-discharged official, and that by speaking, he shows his “lack of understanding in how democracy works.”
What utter nonsense. Dagan, as a former public official, owns an allegiance first and foremost to the Israeli public, which paid his salary. Of course, as long as he was in office, his duty was to obey the orders of the elected government, and refrain from attacking its policy in public. Once he left office, assuming he reached the conclusion that government policy endangers the public, it was not his right to inform the public, it was his duty. If he believes the government is about to lead the country into an avoidable, unnecessary war, it is his duty to sound the alarm. In certain cases, the moral duty of an official in such a position is to resign and inform the public of the danger. Dagan, having already left office, is spared this dilemma.
The hush-hush people that are so angry about Dagan’s comment would, after all, conveniently forget he is recently discharged if only he would parrot the government line and provides us with plenty of sea stories about the hideous danger coming from Iran, a danger so great it necessities an attack as soon as possible. Since he dares, however, to challenge this line, he becomes a public enemy. Several attacks on Dagan have already started in Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, Israel Hayom.
This is an essentially anti-democratic position: It holds that former senior officials may not contradict the government and may not inform the public there is more than one side to a hotly-debated issue. Even more so, they claim, the chief of Mossad must not inform the public that the prime minister and the minister of defense are untrustworthy to the point of mental illness.
The second claim is that Dagan damages Israel’s position and its deterrence of Iran. This, too, is an undemocratic position: The government’s position, in an open society, is not that of the nation, just of the present government. Other governments may hold different position, but if those different positions cannot be publicly argued, they’ll have a very hard time catching on. As for “harming deterrence,” assuming this pink, winged unicorn actually exists, what could be more deterring than the public acknowledgement that the leaders of Israel are mad, rabid dogs?
In short, let Dagan speak in peace and cut the hypocrisy. I’ll probably regret this post in three years’ time, when Dagan, free of the shackles of the chill-out law, will begin his political campaign. Nevertheless, it must be said: In a democratic country, the right of former officials to criticize the government is a pillar of the regime. If the government can muzzle them, it will destroy public debate on serious questions. It is clear why any government – that of Netanyahu and Barak in particular – wants to; it is also clear why it must not succeed.
And one more thing: Binyamin Netanyahu’s position on the Ofer Brothers scandal was complex. One the one hand, they were involved in trade with Iran, whom he compared time and time again to Germany in 1938. That Germany, we should remember, was boycotted by the revisionist movement, from which Netanyahu hails. On the other hand, there was his deep need to grovel before tycoons. Yesterday, when Sammy Ofer expired, it was clear which side was victorious: Netanyahu hailed Ofer (Hebrew) as a “whole bodied-Zionist.”
Whaddaya know. Turns out the bar for being a Zionist is set rather low these days, when a Jew who conveniently held the citizenship of another country for tax reasons, and who traded with – according to Netanyahu – Hitler’s modern heirs, can be considered as such. There is a claim that Hitler once said that if there weren’t any Jews, they ought to have been invented, meaning they were an excellent scapegoat; following Netanyahu’s obsequious homage to Ofer should make us wonder whether he truly sees Iran as an enemy equal to Nazi Germany, and whether he pumps its up, so he would have a nice scarecrow to punch for points in public opinion.