The funnel for the public's steam
Yesterday, as the release of the Winograd Committee's final report neared, the reservists who rallied to try to oust Ehud Olmert made a shocking decision: They changed their slogan from "33 soldiers for spin" to "His spin will kill us."
Yesterday, as the release of the Winograd Committee's final report neared, the reservists who rallied to try to oust Ehud Olmert made a shocking decision: They changed their slogan from "33 soldiers for spin" to "His spin will kill us." The change was made after leaks that the Winograd Committee will not criticize the prime minister's decision to carry out a large ground offensive during the last three days of the Second Lebanon War.
There is no clearer reflection of Israel's public mood since the cease-fire on August 14, 2006: People - whether severely critical or forgiving - have decided that the country's leadership is responsible for the results of the war despite the findings of the Winograd Committee. And if they still do not relent if the committee's insights contradict their own point of view, at best they will alter their slogan, against or for the prime minister.
The Winograd Committee is at risk of being remembered as the funnel through which the steam and frustration accumulated since the war is released. The committee had the potential to play a key role in bringing about conceptual, practical and moral changes in public life, and this afternoon we will find out if they have come through on that promise.
An investigating committee was established to help the Israeli democracy deal with national crises. The assumption was that the state was sometimes in complex situations that the political system could not resolve on its own, either because it was too involved in the problem or because the traditional organs of oversight - the police and state prosecution - were not relevant.
The logic for using an external investigating committee is the trust the public places in it, its authority to carry out a full investigation and its willingness to dispel any lack of clarity on the subject. The Winograd Committee was equipped with essential tools to carry out its task: It enjoyed public trust and was given the means to reach the truth. This evening we will learn if it has also been endowed with a third essential quality - the ability to say things straight and present a clear picture on the conduct of the government and Israel Defense Forces during the war, and on those responsible for this conduct.
This morning the situation was still unclear: Since the war's end, the impression in each citizen's mind on the results of the war and the conduct of the military and political leadership has not changed. On the contrary, the long period since the Winograd Committee was set up, as well as the political and security developments since, have only made it more difficult to have a clear view of the events of the summer of 2006 and their implications.
The Winograd Committee is releasing its final report this evening, at a time when the public has rather good information about the war and the way decisions were made (in part thanks to the committee's interim report). The report comes as the IDF says it has adopted the conclusions of its in-house investigation into the war - long ago.
In addition, while the report is being made public, the politicians have proven that they prefer to retain the current coalition structure, and the prime minister has announced he will not resign. And the other main figures responsible for the war's failures have already resigned. Will the Winograd Committee be able to effect the required change, or will it allow the situation to stay as it is and allow each citizen to stick to his view on the war and its implications?
The Winograd Committee tied its own hands when it promised not to offer any conclusions on political and military leaders who conducted the war. In the coming days, that decision may emerge as the committee's biggest failure; it will be the one to establish whether the report has a profound, practical result, or whether it serves only as an empty shell.
This will not be the case if the committee phrases (even if not through specific recommendations) the personal responsibility of those involved in a way that prevents them from continuing to avoid paying the public cost of their failures.