Don't Take Mordechai's Past From Him

Yitzhak Mordechai was one of the first soldiers whose meteoric rise in the army was not connected to a past in the Palmach or the ascendance of the kibbutzim.

I allow myself to reveal here for the first time that there was a moment in the life of Yitzhak Mordechai when he considered the thought of suicide. Only for just a moment. Then a brigadier general, chief paratroop and infantry officer, Mordechai came to my home in June 1986 to tell the story, with the chief of staff's approval, of the 495 days he spent as the victim of a false charge concocted against him by top Shin Bet officials, alleging that he had killed with his own hands, in cold blood, the two terrorists from the Bus 300 incident. "I don't know," he told me then, "where I found the strength of spirit to stand up to this libel. If I had been weaker, I would have shot myself."

The Bus 300 incident is a shocking, Kafkaesque story in which the attorney general, a committee of inquiry and conscientious journalists sought to put Mordechai on trial for killing the two bus hijackers. The incident began in April 1984 and ended with a dramatic development in June 1986, when three top Shin Bet officials revealed that the head of the Shin Bet at the time, Avraham Shalom, was the one who gave the order to kill the terrorists, and then to mislead the Zorea Committee and obstruct its work in a way that would implicate Mordechai.

During that same visit to my home, Mordechai described in hair-raising detail the way in which they "volunteered" him to take the starring role, as the victim, in a blood libel the likes of which had never been seen in Israel. Photographs of the terrorists, still alive, were displayed on the news pages next to photographs of Mordechai at the scene, pistol in hand. This led the public to doubt his innocence - even after a military court exonerated him - and to believe that the affair had been whitewashed.

When the truth was exposed, the Shin Bet officials who were indeed responsible received clemency in advance, with a trial. And the person who participated in the murder, and admitted in a newspaper interview that he smashed the heads of the terrorists, is now serving as a member of Knesset, where his basso profundo is heard on the most important national issues raised at the Knesset.

Yitzhak Mordechai, who immigrated to Israel from the Kurdish region of Iraq in 1950 straight to the tents of a ma'abarah (transit camp), was one of the first soldiers whose meteoric rise in the army was not connected to a past in the Palmach or the ascendance of the kibbutzim. He was one of the first Mizrahim (Eastern Jews) to advance, as a paratroop fighter, from rank to rank. He was a company commander in the Six Day War and a battalion commander in the Yom Kippur War, and was decorated for bravery for his part in the Chinese Farm battle. He was the only IDF officer to have served as the head of all three regional commands, and ultimately attained the position of defense minister. He was the first Mizrahi defense minister. Even though he served in this role during the Netanyahu government, he spoke often about the need for an accord with the Palestinians and subsequently squared off against Netanyahu and contributed toward his defeat in an initial television debate in which Netanyahu, the great wordsmith, became tongue-tied and took a thorough beating.

This long preface is not at all intended to make light of Mordechai's conviction for indecent acts. This is not a Dreyfus case and not a libel, but rather the tragedy of a man who failed to control his urges. There were inglorious days in the IDF when officers exploited their status to flirt with the female soldiers under their command - sometimes using moderate force, sometimes with their consent. With all due respect to the weaker sex, not all of these female soldiers were completely righteous - some of these female soldiers sought to win the good graces of their important and horny commanders in order to win promotions. But the days of machismo and the era of "when you say no, what do you mean?" have passed. The bastards changed the rules (in the words of Spiro Agnew) and did not inform Mordechai. He was found guilty, and this verdict was reaffirmed in all his appeals. It is hard to understand how the man who withstood the Shin Bet libel did not withstand the temptation to place his hands where they should not have been.

Mordechai today is finished from the public perspective and broken on a personal level. He might have been the victim of the system in the Shin Bet affair, but he is now the victim of himself. Nonetheless, I hope the report that the army is considering demoting him to the rank of private turns out to be false, or at least that the defense minister will not approve this. Not only because you don't hit a man when he's down, but because he earned his ranks, his military promotions and his pension honestly and devotedly, completing his military service honorably even when he was the victim of an ignoble libel. His future is finished - don't take his past from him.