Disorder Becomes the Norm

The defense minister's traditional Independence Day reception started losing its luster some 15 years ago, in the days when Yitzhak Mordechai held the office. That was when senior Israel Defense Forces officers stopped coming to it after noticing that journalists and party functionaries far outnumbered uniformed officers.

The generals would show up only if the chief of staff gave them a direct order to do so, or if they were vying for the chief of staff's position. The few uniforms seen around were usually battalion and brigade commanders, wandering a bit dazed with their wives on the Defense Ministry lawn because their direct commander forgot to tell them they would do better to just stick the invitation on the refrigerator and skip the party.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss lifted a stone and found the usual disorder characterizing the Defense Ministry and minister's bureau all too often. But unlike Lindenstrauss' report about the scandalous expenses and wasteful conduct of Barak's entourage at the Paris air show, this statement is not about a huge waste of money.

There is nothing flashy about the annual Independence Day event. The entire reception costs about NIS 1.5 million, not quite double the sum the entourage spent in Paris. The issue is the utter confusion and disorganization.

The event deteriorated gradually in the course of Shaul Mofaz and Amir Peretz' tenures as defense minister, culminating in Barak's turn.

Years ago it was decided that the occasion would reflect the defense minister's esteem and respect for security forces personnel. But nobody ever bothered to set rules, regulations or means of supervision. Everything, especially the way the invitations were issued, was improvized and impromptu every year, depending entirely on the minister's aides' whims.

The ceremony is not a new, surprising event but a long-standing tradition. It should not be organized offhandedly at the last minute. Yet confusion prevails over every aspect.

The number of the minister's personal guests increased dramatically, but other guest lists were also marked by disorder. Who for example decided that the guests from the Mossad should outnumber those from the Shin Bet threefold? And why were the invitations to IDF widows cut by one third in five years?

Barak cannot be held directly responsible for the embarrassment this time. But after the excessive spending at the Paris air show and the Philippine maid affair, the defense minister may find it difficult to shake off the image of the wastrel-cum-bon vivant.

Lindenstrauss, knowing he will be accused of provincial pettiness, softened his tone this time and refrained from accusing Barak directly for the disorders. He did not issue a report but a relatively short statement. His people stress the minister's new chief of staff Yoni Koren's serious attitude and readiness to put things in order. And yet, the comptroller's statement is intended to make sure this year's reception, due on April 20, is held in a more orderly and thrifty fashion. Barak is certain to be more careful from now on.