Rabin Syndrome: The Uniform Fetish of Israel's Left

The Israeli left constantly elects generals to lead them and legitimize its dovish ways. It never works.

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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It keeps happening. A former general, or former leader of Mossad or Shin Bet, has an epiphany light. Suddenly, he understands and articulates all the problems with Israel’s foreign and domestic policies.

Suddenly, he sees how wrong the occupation is, and how if Israel doesn’t shape up - and fast - it faces a grim future, and (possibly) ruin.

That’s when the former general Mossad/Shin-Bet chief becomes more than just another retired soldier. He becomes a savior. He becomes the next Great White Hope in the dwindling ranks of the Israeli left.

Call it Rabin Syndrome, after the chief of staff who became prime minister and swung to the left, almost bringing peace before being shot down by an assassin. Since then, and the ensuing collapse of the left in Israel as a ruling alternative, the left-wing in Israel has been desperately seeking a Rabin-clone: a grizzled soldier with enough decorations on his chest to be credible when telling the Israeli public that peace is the only option.

Or, simply: An officer and a gentleman. A general with a heart of gold.

Ehud Barak was the first. The original successor. After him, came Amram Mitzna. Then (on a much smaller scale) Ami Ayalon. And of course there was the controversial Ariel Sharon, who swung left during his last year in power.

Now it's Yuval Diskin, qualified for the role by being a former head of Shin Bet, and one of the six “stars” of Dror Moreh’s Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers. Oooh. He's a movie star to boot.

Rite of passage: Savaging Netanyahu

Last week, Diskin ruffled a few feathers, harshly criticizing Benjamin Netnayahu for stalling. “I want a homeland that does not require occupation of another people in order to maintain it,” he said. “We need an agreement now, before we reach a point of no return at which the two-state solution would no longer be an option.”

it wasn’t the first time Diskin had criticized Netanyahu, or spoke of the urgency of reaching a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. But the response was sharper this time. Netanyahu’s office called him “frustrated and out of touch." Economy Minister Naftali Bennett mocked him on Facebook.

Diskin didn’t take it lying down: he wittily rebutted both Netanyahu and Bennett on Facebook, which he recently joined.

He does seem to be primed for a career in politics. What with his new Facebook account and his outspokenness, not to mention his starring performance in The Gatekeepers, his public profile is growing fast. And although after his six-year term as head of Shin Bet, in 2011, he said he didn't want to go into politics, it seems he's changed his mind. Haaretz’s Uri Misgav reported this week that Diskin has been quietly trying to raise funds in the past year, sending signals of a potential entry into politics.

If this is true, he would hit the trifecta: an officer, a gentleman and a movie star.

The left in love

Misgav, on his part, couldn’t be more enthused. “Yuval Diskin is exactly what was missing, and everything that was missing, within Israel’s moderate camp," he wrote, calling Diskin “the right man at the right time at the right place” and “a near-perfect candidate." “He has charisma, he has leadership qualities, he has military cred. He has power. He has courage," wrote Misgav.

In the archives of Israel’s newspapers, you'll find exactly the same written by left-leaning columnists about Barak, about Mitzna, about Ayalon and about Sharon in his last year. All of them were courageous, all of them possessed leadership qualities. All were charismatic.

And also - all of them failed.

Ehud Barak turned out to be the biggest disappointment in the history of the Israeli left: the self-styled successor to Yitzhak Rabin was the same person who effectively killed the peace process, by arguing that “there is no partner."

Amram Mitzna failed to live up to expectations. He did not lead Labor to victory, and retired to self-imposed exile in Yeruham, before joining Tzipi Livni’s movement and finding a comfy spot in Netanyahu’s cabinet.

Ayalon? Had an unremarkable career in the Kneset, after it turned out he wasn’t as effective a leader in politics as he was in battle. And Sharon? Well, he's still in a coma.

This not to say that if Diskin indeed chose to enter politics, he would wind up like these former messiahs. Maybe this time the formula would work.

But it’s not Diskin the man that is the issue here. It’s the syndrome, the search.
Diskin hasn’t even stated clearly that he's heading for politics, and already he’s been anointed savior of the left, and accordingly vilified.

If this reminds you of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, well, it should.

It’s exactly this kind of uncritical yearning for an authoritative father figure with a heart of gold and the smell of uniform that has chained the Israeli left to a fruitless search for another Rabin-like “general of peace."

Messiahs, you see, are not cast. And none know what form they will take when (and if) they come.

Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin.Credit: Moti Milrod
Pop star Aviv Geffen singing at a memorial for slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The two had previously met on a Dan Shilon show.Credit: Dan Keinan