A General of Moral Turpitude?

The claim of Yitzhak Mordechai's supporters, that he has suffered enough and been punished too much, is a subterfuge; the ones who suffered were Mordechai's victims.

On the eve of the 1981 elections, when he was neck-and-neck with Shimon Peres in the polls, then-prime minister and defense minister Menachem Begin visited Caesarea for a festive Israel Navy event.

"You know that we will determine whether you win the elections," joked the commander in chief, major general Ze'ev Almog, on the way to the event. "The army does not intervene in politics, but the last polling results to reach the Elections Committee is located in our submarine, which has embarked on a long trip."

Begin was not impressed; it would take 15 years until Peres' desperate disciples would recommend waiting for the votes of the seamen. "Tell me, please," said Begin, surprising Almog with an entirely different subject, "did the person who preceded you as commander in chief of the Navy really have such strong urges?"

Begin was referring to Major General Michael (Yomi) Barkai, who although he was acquitted of attacking a female soldier, was forced to resign as commander in chief of the Israel Navy in a military trial whose special panel was headed by Chaim Herzog. The acquittal did not convince then-defense minister Ezer Weizman that Barkai's problematic behavior was worthy of a major general. Weizman, a serial deposer - who had removed, in an entirely different context, the governor of the West Bank, Brigadier General David Hagoel, and asked for a similar punishment for the commander of the Paratroops Brigade, Major General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak (who was saved from dismissal by then-chief of staff Mordechai Gur) - got rid of Barkai in spite of the fact that he had been awarded a Medal for Distinguished Service, as the hero of the victory of the navy missile ship flotilla over the Egyptian and Syrian navies in the Yom Kippur War. (He was also the brother of the deputy commander of the submarine "Dakar," which was lost at sea.)

Barkai was not the first high-ranking officer to be suspected of conduct unbecoming toward female soldiers, but he was the first whose case could not longer be whitewashed. He accepted the court's decision, quietly returned home, and years later, when he was suffering from a terminal illness, committed suicide. He did not gather together supporters, and did not portray himself as a victim.

Former minister Yitzhak Mordechai, a sex offender who has been indicted on two counts, with the confirmation of the High Court of Justice, is not giving up. The Israel Defense Forces did not volunteer to apply the law to Mordechai. It did so very slowly, in response to the media's questions, and in a joint effort by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (the chief of staff who had appointed Mordechai), chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, and the previous judge advocate general, Major General Menahem Finkelstein, to defend Mordechai and to use strange excuses to avoid their obligation.

This is a legal obligation, and the law is from the IDF itself, not from the press, not from women's organizations; the military law of 50 years ago, which strips an officer of his rank (even a sergeant) if he has been convicted of moral turpitude, the vestige of a period that considered "an officer and a gentleman" not a media cliche, but an essential and deterrent combination. When you receive the rank of officer, you also gain social position, and when the court ruled that you were not a gentleman, you could not remain an officer, nor could you continue serving in the IDF's standing army or in the reserves. The claim of Mordechai's supporters, that he has suffered enough and been punished too much, is a subterfuge; the ones who suffered were Mordechai's victims.

Mordechai climbed to the top echelons of the IDF thanks to his Medal of Valor as a Paratroops battalion commander at the "Chinese Farm" during the Yom Kippur War. He was one of dozens of battalion commanders who fought hard and with self-sacrifice at the time, and he was not the most prominent among them. In the affair of Bus No. 300 - which was attacked by terrorists who were later killed by Shin Bet security officers, with Mordechai unjustly taking the blame - his violent behavior when he arrived at the area belatedly, is worthy of condemnation. He did not deserve to be incriminated, as the Shin Bet security services tried to do, but nor did he deserve total exoneration, with the signature of his friend Haim Nadel (who was appointed to try him), and promotion to major general.

The following, a very partial list, are the professions and jobs that cannot be filled by anyone with a criminal record: veterinarians and members of the council for animal welfare, firefighters and smoke inspectors, public representatives on the council for the production and marketing of peanuts, "certified minimizers" (there is such a profession, which sounds like something from science fiction, and is in fact the person in charge of recording the accounts of a business on microfilm for the income tax authority). Fire, smoke, animals, peanuts, minimized accounts - all, according to Mordechai's followers, are entitled to protection from criminals guilty of moral turpitude, more than the IDF, its soldiers, its honor.

"I didn't measure them," replied Almog to Begin about his predecessor's urges. Mordechai's private accounting does not release him from facing the IDF's ruling of moral turpitude. If, from here on in, not after the fact, the IDF wants to assert that there is no contradiction between the rank of major general and crimes of moral turpitude, let it say so outright, and pay the appropriate public price.