It's Not the Sex, It's the System

If judges do not have the exclusive power to promote other judges, there is no reason to allow a military sect to duplicate itself.

The revelation that Israel Navy commander Major General Eliezer Marom frequents strip clubs is important mainly as an embarrassing minor incident, with the discussion surrounding it formulated in terms of sex versus integrity. It also has a regular and deceptive by-product, of making us believe that the only choice is between impotent righteous people and skilled hotheads.

In effect, the affair once again sheds light on a well known weakness of the Israeli system: abandoning high-ranking military appointments to arbitrary decisions of a chief of staff and a commander of a military branch. The state comptroller has long been preoccupied with an examination of the matter. The formation of a new government that can decide on strict regulations for appointments in the ranks of the senior command is an opportunity for changing the system.

A very orderly discussion is conducted among the generals, headed by the chief of staff, before choosing among various candidates up to the rank of brigadier general. The appointment of the chief of staff is decided by the government, on the recommendation of the defense minister, preferably (if not necessarily) with the agreement of the prime minister, and with the approval of the Advisory Committee on Senior Appointments, headed by a retired judge.

The problem is in the middle, between the brigadier general and the lieutenant general. The chief of staff has a decisive voice in the decision to promote a brigadier general to general, or to award a general a more important position, although the signature of the defense minister is also necessary (he confirms appointments from colonel on up).

Interventions by defense ministers in the appointment of major generals are rare. For the most part they are interested only in the appointment of the deputy chiefs of staff (who then become candidates for the next chief of staff), the heads of Military Intelligence and the air force commanders. The chiefs of the commands and the heads of the directorates of the General Staff interest them less than minor office intrigues.

The chief of staff, who as a more junior officer was sometimes at the mercy of the incumbent chief of staff, is the one who decides who will rise to greatness and who will be frozen or ejected. He is the pope who appoints cardinals; his cardinals, the major generals, have no vote on the question of who is invited to join the club.

And how does the chief of staff decide? Ostensibly, in a professional and realistic manner, because, after all, he wants to succeed, both personally and as the commander of the Israel Defense Forces. But in fact, after three decades or more in the army, the chief of staff is dragging behind him the baggage of grudges, whims and preferences.

For that very reason there is a need for civilian monitoring. It is supposed to be provided by the elected official who heads the system, the defense minister. But when he is dragging similar baggage with him, as a retired general or a former chief of staff, the private grudges accumulate with usurious interest.

In two special cases, the commanders of the air force and the navy, the freedom enjoyed by the chief of staff in appointing the major generals infiltrates one rank down, to these two major generals. Upon their appointment, they can cleanse and populate the top air force/navy echelons as they please, they can push out a brigadier general who is not to their liking, or promote or bring back another officer. In the case of Marom, after Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi had doubts and hesitated, but in the end decided to appoint him, the new commander completely reshuffled the deck he had been given, without interference. Now the refusal to throw him overboard is being explained by the absence of an available candidate for the command.

That is not true. If at a time of crisis David Ben-Gurion forced ground-forces Maj. Gen. Shlomo Shamir on the navy, it is certainly permissible to give the job now to Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant, who rose up in the navy until he became commander of the elite naval command unit Shayetet 13, without harming his chances of competing for the position of next chief of staff.

Ashkenazi and Marom did not invent the system. In previous rounds they were its victims (and in others, its beneficiaries). They and their ilk will not change it. If judges do not have the exclusive power to promote other judges, but are only members of an appointments committee, there is no reason to allow a military sect to duplicate itself.