Israeli politics needs more workhorses and fewer generals


Yehuda Shlezinger | Israel Hayom via JNS

As the recent controversy over a bill providing tuition grants to IDF veterans raged, with combat soldiers caught in the crossfire between the coalition and opposition, a young member of Knesset named Eitan Ginzburg came to Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office. Ginzburg had an idea only an MK of his low stature could have come up with.

Ehud Barak. | Courtesy of Barak Weizmann

He told Gantz that in the reservations to the tuition bill registered by Likud Party MKs, there was a clause in which they agreed to increase the budget for combat soldiers by 75 percent. Making this public could force opposition MKs to support the bill. Gantz promptly announced it from the Knesset podium and voiced his support for the budget increase. As expected by Ginzburg, most Likud MKs, who weren’t fully versed in the bill and barely knew about the reservations, voted “yes.” The bill passed.

A similar event took place when MK Ofir Katz, 19th on the Likud list — far below prominent figures like Miri Regev and Israel Katz — asked the Health Ministry to approve a catheterization center at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. After a long battle, the approval came through last March. Now, residents of the south who live a two-hour drive away from Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva are three times as likely to survive a stroke.

With elections in the air, famous generals like former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot are once again rumored to be entering politics. But as the cases of Ginzburg and Katz remind us, famous generals are no better at politics than hardworking, low-level Knesset members — and sometimes much worse.

Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot. | IDF Spokesperson’s Unit photographer

Experience has taught us that plenty of generals have failed as politicians. One need only look at Ehud Barak, who holds the dubious record of serving the shortest term as prime minister in Israeli history. During that term, he beat a hasty retreat from Lebanon, held failed peace talks at Camp David and Taba and saw the start of the second intifada.

Barak wasn’t the only former general to run afoul of political reality. Maj. Gen. (res.) Yair Golan, for example, called for the delusional Sadi Ben Sheetrit, a former leader of the protest movement against ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned rabid anti-vaxxer, to light a torch at Israel’s Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl. All that remains of former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon’s grand political debut is his obsession with the submarine affair. Even former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who was courted by everyone in the political establishment, hasn’t really made his mark.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yair Golan. | IDF Spokesperson’s Unit / CC BY-SA 3.0

Politics is utterly different from the military. It is not a battle in which you go head-to-head and everyone follows orders. A politician is a professional. He needs people skills, ability to compromise, flexibility, cunning, a creative mind and, most of all, the willingness to wade through the mud without being applauded. It’s time for Israel to bring in more anonymous workhorses and fewer famous generals.

Yehuda Shlezinger is Israel Hayom’s religious affairs correspondent.

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  1. I would agree with Shlezinger that in Israel many former high-ranking military officers, generals in particular, have not done well as political leaders. I might add that one of the most disastrous political decisions in Israeli history — the unilateral “disengagement” from Gaza that allowed the terrorist organization Hamas to take control of the entire area — was orchestrated by Ariel Sharon who had had an exemplary military career before becoming Prime Minister.
    However, I believe the opposite conclusion applies to American political leaders who formerly served in the military. For instance, out of 46 American presidents, 31 had previously served in the military. Almost without exception, those 31 served with distinction in their political role as president; and many are ranked as some of the greatest presidents in American history, e.g. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.
    What accounts for this disparity in political acumen between American and Israeli political leaders who have previously served in the military? This question is certainly open to conjecture.
    My educated guess is that, in Israel, high-ranking military officers who throw their hats into the political ring are almost immediately catapulted into the highest ranks of a political party and, if that party becomes part of a governing coalition, that officer-turned-neophyte-politician quickly becomes a government minister or even the prime minister.
    On the other hand, in the United States, the entry of former military officers into politics is generally much more gradual — allowing them to add valuable political acumen to their military experience as they gradually rise in the political world.


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