In Israel's Recent Revolution, the Galant Affair, Democracy Won

In Israel, revolutions do not take place in the streets but rather through other channels: investigative journalism, a petition to the High Court of Justice, the state comptroller.

A revolution has been going on in Israel over the past few weeks that ended successfully yesterday with the cancelation of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's appointment as the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. What began as a feud between neighbors in a remote moshav has led to the overturning of a very significant decision at the senior government level, after it had passed through all the formal filters and approval process.

galant - Olivier Fitoussi - January 31 2011
Olivier Fitoussi

In Israel, revolutions do not take place in the streets, like those in neighboring countries, but rather through other channels: investigative journalism, a petition to the High Court of Justice, the state comptroller, a politician who stands alone against his colleagues and raises the banner of moral standards.

But the outcome is the same. The rulers find out that they are not omnipotent and the Israeli public can thwart their decision if it insists strongly enough.

Israeli democracy came out a winner in the Galant affair, and proved that it has institutions of oversight that are immune to pressure and persistent in the face of the political leadership. The media, the justice system and the state comptroller applied the necessary checks and balances to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The Green Movement, the political party that petitioned the High Court against the Galant appointment, shot it down and registered an achievement that could push it over the threshold of votes needed for a Knesset seat.

Barak came out the big loser in this affair. He insisted on appointing Galant and tempted Netanyahu with the promise that the chief of staff-designate would authorize going to war against Iran. But Netanyahu realized a few days ago that the wind had changed, quietly disassociated from Barak and released a statement of support for Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Thus, Netanyahu spurned Galant and left Barak to take the criticism alone.

Continuing this line, Netanyahu yesterday released a statement that "the prime minister has directed the defense minister" how to appoint Galant's replacement. Netanyahu can bully Barak now that Barak has disconnected from the Labor Party and has no political backing.

Barak tried until the last minute to show that he does not abandon his fighters in the field, releasing a statement backing Galant right before his appointment was revoked. The ostensible support for a wounded subordinate is touching. But if Barak had been a real friend, he would have thoroughly examined the claims against his candidate before the appointment. He would thus have saved the "daring" Galant the painful and humiliating experience of the past two weeks by advising him to withdraw his candidacy a few days ago, after the results of the state comptroller's probe of the land affair were publicized. It was Barak's support that encouraged Galant to "fight for the appointment" in vain.

The revolution succeeded, but this success has raised a backlash of criticism of the "rule of the media and the jurists," which will certainly be translated into bills calling for a limit on intervention in the actions of the executive branch.

The struggle to strengthen democracy has not ended with the victory over Barak and Netanyahu in the appointment of the 20th IDF chief of staff. It has just begun.