Indecent Exposure

"I've always been a Labor man," a veteran member of the party told us many years ago. "My parents were in Mapai and I became active in the party too. Until the Yom Kippur war, that is. Then I learned that it doesn't matter what party my prime minister comes from, it only matters if he's right."

Unhappily for Ehud Olmert, only two months into his job as prime minister, the question is arising as to whether he was right or wrong in the way the Lebanon II war was handled. The question as to the army's conduct is secondary to the question of the political echelon's conduct, partly because the political echelon sets the army's goals, and there is a real question as to whether it did that wisely. But it's a much harder question to answer.

One of the differences between the government inquiry that Olmert proposes, and a national inquiry, touches on that very matter: the government inquiry will have no power to investigate the political echelon. A national inquiry could do that, though previous ones (Agranat - the Yom Kippur war, Kahan - Sabra and Shatila) have not done it will.

If Israel were the U.S., there would be no argument over the nature of the inquiry. Congress would resolve the matter, setting up its own panel. As an elected house, Congress's job is to critique the political echelon. Setting up an inquiry when something horrible happens is part of its job.

By the same token, Israel's Knesset should have obviated the whole argument by setting up a panel of its own, that would probe the complaints about the political echelon: did the Olmert government mishandle the war.

But it doesn't occur to the Knesset to set up any such thing, nor would anybody dream of trusting the results of such an inquiry. Everybody knows that parliamentary inquiries are a fixed game; they reach their conclusions in advance, so nobody would be silly enough to leave it to a parliamentary inquiry to investigate a question crucial to Israel's very existence - how well the government functioned during the war.

We'd feel hurt

If we were Knesset members, we'd feel insulted that nobody trusts us to carry out our most important mission: to supervise the political echelon. If we were Knesset members, we'd be upset that the parliament in which we sit is not capable of carrying out one of its most important roles: to serve as the public's arm in answering questions of existential importance to the future of the State of Israel.

If we were Knesset members, we'd ask ourselves whether, before examining the functioning of the government, we should examine the functioning of the Knesset. The loss of the Knesset's credibility in the eyes of the public is as bad for Israel as the loss of faith in an incumbent government.

If the Knesset members were to ask themselves some hard questions, they'd have discovered that the Knesset lost its credibility because it lost its decency. All decency involves is thinking of the good of the country before the good of oneself and one's party.

The power of U.S. Congressional inquiries is based on their being first and foremost ? impartial, not driven  by partisan motives. The distribution of representatives on the committees is party-based, but their final conclusions are not. The representatives owe a duty to their parties, but fist and foremost, they owe a duty to the United States. A Democratic representative will vote against an incumbent Democratic president if he believes his president erred.

That wouldn't happen in Israel. Here the Knesset members vote, at best, by party directives, and at worse according to their own personal interests. The possibility of a coalition MK believing that the opposition is right and voting with it is unthinkable; he would be ousted on the spot for betraying his party. The ability to listen and weigh matters impartially is nonexistent in our Knesset. From that perspective, the Knesset never did learn the lessons of Yom Kippur.