Gabi Ashkenazi
Gabi Ashkenazi. Photo by Eran Wolkowski
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At the last court ball of our 3,000-year-old kingdom (albeit with a 2,000-year break in the middle and, here and there, some negligible stints of a few hundred years ), the changing of the guard at the chief of staff's bureau was celebrated with much public ado. Baron Gabriel von Ashkenazi was forced to vacate his seat this week to the Duke von Gantz, in the best tradition of royal court intrigues, having been ousted from his lofty office prematurely, after becoming an object of loathing in the eyes of Archduke Ehud de Barak.

The position had been promised to de Barak's favorite, the Duke de Galant, but von Lindenstrauss, the state comptroller, took an unfavorable view of him. Not a trace of all these intrigues was visible at the court ball itself, broadcast on television. There, compliments were showered and shoulders were clapped. Noblesse oblige, indeed.

Our glorious and exalted kingdom sanctifies sabra simplicity and, as we all know, deplores Polish politesse, hypocrisy and official ceremonies. But it's inevitable. The common folks love gossip and want to see their elite partying.

So, to make things look as much as possible like a gala Viennese ball, there have to be wives next to husbands, and glamorous women with either blonde curls or Buster Brown coiffures to accompany the generals of their youth. And other women - whom only God and the court gossip experts are able to identify - are needed to fall on the necks of the heroes of the evening, shrieking so they can be heard on television: "I've always known you would become chief of staff!" Or better yet: "You were terrific. We love you."

Not too many years ago, the ceremony marking the changing of the guard at the army was held in an office, with half a dozen people invited. Since then, everything has ballooned and become bombastic - delivered in bad taste, in the spirit of the times. Weddings and bar-mitzvah celebrations have become increasingly ostentatious, and even at funerals it is now customary to have a drawn-out series of eulogies for every poor schnook who passes away, as though he were a prime minister.

But the latest bon ton is sacking parties. In order to sweeten the bitter pill for somebody fired from his job, the workplace organizes a big party to tell that certain somebody - during a lavish dinner, attended by his wife, children and friends - how wonderful he was at his job, but also to explain that there was no alternative and things being what they are, alas, it was necessary to cut back. And the guest of honor, for his part, gives thanks in heartfelt words for having been fired with such dignity and honor.

But back to the changing of the guard ceremony, which bore the clear imprint of this sort of sacking celebration. Were all those glamorous women there because machismo has suddenly given way to feminism among the elite of our kingdom? No, absolutely not. On the contrary. The women were explicitly fulfilling their traditional role, from the days of Napoleon and Josephine to our own era of Obama and Michelle, serving as a bourgeois adornment for The Man. Their presence was aimed at implying that chiefs of staff and generals - with all the dirty work incumbent upon them as heads of a system that engages, among other things, if not mainly, in killing and oppression - are, when you come right down to it, just human beings with supportive and loving families.

That part, the part about the outgoing chief of staff being a supportive and loving family man who gets to be reunited with that family only after many years of service, during which he sacrificed his private life for the sake of the nation, was amply provided by the two baronets of the von Ashkenazi family: Gali and Itai. How charming they were, these young folks, for the first time in their lives able to show off their courtly skills to an audience of counts, dukes and archdukes. Their dear Papa is the best in the world, and they themselves are undoubtedly charming, as their father noted in his speech, which began with words of appreciation for his wonderful family, including his parents. Clearly, were they not wonderful, they would not have had a wonderful person like him as their son, and he, for his part, would not have married such a wonderful woman and would not have produced such wonderful children.

Yes, when it comes to kitsch and cliches, we always think it's impossible to to get any more tasteless - and then we prove ourselves wrong. Back when Moshe Katsav was president, the rumor was that every time he was asked what his favorite book was he would automatically reply: "'The Wars of the Jews' by Josephus Flavius." But it turns out even that can be outdone. The volume that outgoing Chief of Staff Ashkenazi presented as a keepsake to his successor, with great ceremony, was a booklet of attack targets in the Gaza Strip. Something especially dear to his heart.

It is said of the Duke von Gantz that he is a practical man who speaks little, a kind of salt-of-the-earth Israeli who hates the etiquette of royalty and loves simplicity. But on his first day as chief of staff, it was clear he had internalized the court rules of our glorious and exalted kingdom. He set out on a publicized tour of the Northern Command, accompanied by a large retinue of shoulder-clappers, and the commentator voice of court scribe Roni Daniel of Channel 2. Coming soon, no doubt, will be more ceremonial visits.

Our 3,000-year-old kingdom shall not falter as long as every day brings a celebration.