Character Trumps Experience

The question that Labor members need to ask themselves is what is more difficult to make up for: a lack of character or lack of experience?

Even the most fanatical supporters of Ehud Barak are not asking members of Labor to select their candidate because of his previous successes. None of them is arguing that Barak brilliantly conducted the failed peace talks with the Palestinians, or that he excelled in managing the negotiations with the Syrians that ended with bitter disappointment. They are not offering praises for withdrawing from Lebanon without agreement or for failing to fortify the northern communities, and they are not lauding Barak's handling of the old lady in the corridor of the Nahariya hospital. On the contrary: They are asking party members to support their candidate in spite of his problematic record, and to believe them when they say that the 2007 model of Barak is much improved when compared with the 1999 model. And all this while Barak himself is keeping silent about his supposed metamorphosis.

Ami Ayalon was never a prime minister, or a minister, or a chief of staff. He is in any case unable to present the voters with any proof of positive experience in managing the affairs of state. However, there are no question marks about the way Ayalon has managed such issues or about his ability to learn. After all, how many politicians are in a position to show a wealth of experience and success in matters of security, foreign affairs, the economy and health care? A modest leader who is newly arrived, highly capable of learning and willing to be assisted by advisers, is preferable to an experienced leader who believes that wisdom in its entirety can be found between his ears.

To evaluate Ayalon's worth - as is common in most democratic countries, where failed leaders are not commonly recycled - we should examine his performance in positions he has filled. The most important of those to which Ayalon was assigned was chief of the Shin Bet security service. This occurred the day after a major crisis befell the organization, following the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Managing the campaign against Palestinian terrorism and keeping an eye on Jewish terror is a challenge no less important or complicated than running a medium-sized ministry. Ayalon succeeded in refurbishing the Shin Bet during a period in which the right was in power under Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who did not miss an opportunity to challenge Yasser Arafat and to undermine the fragile Oslo Accords. The examples of the Western Wall tunnel furor in Jerusalem and the construction of the city's Har Homa neighborhood are sufficient to remind one of Netanyahu's actions.

Ayalon, who came to the Shin Bet from the Israel Navy, was not shy about asking for advice from experts. They taught him that there is no military solution to the onshore confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians. The "sailor" set up an open channel of communication with the heads of the security organizations in the Palestinian Authority, and convinced them that a strong arm against Hamas and Islamic Jihad would open the clenched fist of the Israeli government. To the good fortune of hundreds of Israeli citizens, Jibril Rajoub and his colleagues believed Ayalon, and the number of attacks inside the Green Line dropped during that period to three. The attacks resumed following the crisis of the Camp David Summit between Barak and Arafat, and the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount.

Ayalon was one of the few who were not fooled by the "no partner" outlook of two prime ministers, and found a partner in Sari Nusseibah. Together they shaped a realistic framework for a settlement between between Israel and the Palestinians, and was one of the first who welcomed the Saudi peace initiative.

The question that Labor members need to ask themselves today is this: Of the two surgeons, with whom would they entrust their lives? One is gifted and experienced, but is arrogant and aloof - a surgeon who in a previous operation caused them serious damage for which he was dismissed from the hospital. Following a break of seven years, he is now asking for another chance. He says he has improved his ways, but continues to behave with the same contempt, so much so that he refuses to present the voters with his treatment plan. The second, a relatively new surgeon in the department, is diligent and accessible, regularly consults with members of the team and listens to his surroundings. In other words, what is more difficult to make up for: a lack of character or lack of experience?