Burnt Offerings From the Barak Kitchen

"Hara-kiri," by Raviv Drucker, Yedioth Ahronoth, 416 pages, NIS 88.

"Hara-kiri," by Raviv Drucker, Yedioth Ahronoth, 416 pages, NIS 88

The most important typographical element in this book is the asterisk. Ravid Drucker uses asterisks to punctuate and divide his pages into innumerable sections. The technique enables him to avoid any form of structure or order. It's as if Drucker is declaring: Reader, beware! The following is a collection of associations that are not necessarily connected to each other.

Indeed, if the author thought he wrote a book, he's wrong. He served up a thick sheaf of notes, which have the potential to be translated into a real book, but he doesn't even pretend to do so. He makes do with dumping the raw material from his notes into typeset text, and presumably, he's happy with the result. The product is so negligent that it's infuriating that it has turned into a best-seller.

These are not the comments of a supra-punctilious critic. This is a protest against contempt for the concept of a book, even when it is a journalistic one. Drucker is a journalist and has no pretensions as an author, but it should not be considered an exaggeration to expect a journalist (and the publishing house that allowed this slam-bam manuscript to see the light of day) to write proper Hebrew, and it's not beyond reason to expect that a journalist provide more than scribbled notes spilled out of a computer, rather to organize them, give them meaning, put them into some context or thesis.

Drucker got away with not doing that with his asterisks. They allow him to write in the annoying manner of the local papers, using headlines like "Quality time," "Mythological ambassador," "Mercilessly slicing at Barak and Bundi," to start sentences in the past tense and finish them in the present, not providing any chronological sequence of events, breaking up the text into random chapters, to avoid making a decision: Are his chronicles of Ehud Barak's term in office chronological, thematic, or personal?

This is regrettable, because Drucker had first-rate journalistic materials with which to work. Documents, information from primary sources, and most importantly, a huge pile of public opinion polls that Barak asked for during his term, and by which he shaped his policies. That is the author's great achievement, the reason the book has been so praised and commercially successful. It gives the reader a peek into the Barak kitchen. It's not a pleasant smell, but it is appealing to read about the plotting, pettiness, caprices, and mafia-like methods. Drucker's great failure (other than the terrible Hebrew) is avoiding any attempt to make the effort to explain Barak's monumental failure as prime minister.

Failure in the kitchen

Ehud Barak belongs to the generation of sabras after Yitzhak Rabin, and like his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was revealed to be an utter failure at managing the affairs of state. That should be a riddle worthy of solution for any curious journalist writing a book about Barak's term: How could such a talented man, with such extraordinary personal accomplishments, burn everything he cooked - and so quickly? Was it accidental, or is there some sociological explanation? Barak's generation has not managed to produce a single outstanding politician, while in other areas, it has produced impressive achievers. Was it a unique fault in Barak's personality?

How can one explain the fact that Netanyahu, too, brought the country - and himself - to the edge of an abyss? Maybe the explanation is to be found in the electoral system, or maybe because the great expectations were so great.

Indeed, it's hard to find leaders anywhere in the world, who stand head and shoulders above the rest. But Drucker absolves himself of these issues. He doesn't even try to characterize Barak's behavior, other than using the battered cliches from the newspapers: pretentious, indifferent, alienated and suspicious.

Barak chose grand issues. He was going to end the conflict between Israel and Syria and the Palestinians. He appeared to go a long way toward reaching that goal. In reality, he hesitated at the last minute. Because of an argument over a narrow stretch of beach northeast of Lake Kinneret, he gave up on the possibility of reaching peace with Syria; because of a dispute over the definition of the sovereignty on the Temple Mount, he withdrew his readiness to reach peace with the Palestinians.

What does this kind of behavior show? That there are no partners on the other side? That Barak is skilled at foreplay, but holds back at the climax? That he was only interested in his own powers of persuasion, his ability to engineer the state and the world's leaders according to his own timetable, his own course of action, while much less interested in actually testing the result? Nowhere in the book is there any sign the author tried to deal with these questions.

There is piquant information, in and of itself important, that sheds light on what took place behind the scenes at the Prime Minister's Office during Barak's term in office. We learn about his obsessive dependence on polls; his divide-and-rule management of aides; his tendency to set people in motion on parallel tracks without them knowing about each other; his extremely suspicious nature; his ruthlessness. He did not hesitate to set groundless police investigations into motion, or to use private investigators to find incriminating information about a friend (Dan Meridor, for example) to improve his own position in an investigation the police were conducting against the nonprofit organizations that raised money for the Barak campaign.

We learn about his instrumentalist approach to people, the chaos in his office, his zigzagging, the amateurish preparations for the Camp David summit, his readiness to buy silence from an aide who quit, by arranging a tempting fellowship in the U.S., about his ability to say the same thing and its opposite, without blinking. But by the end of the book, one reaches the conclusion that the title is misleading. This isn't a book about Ehud Barak. This is a book about the people around him. They fed Drucker with juicy information that makes the text readable and sellable. They believed they were giving the reader the real Barak, without the thick makeup and respect that keeps the prime minister at arm's length - with the help of his energetic aides.

They were wrong. The book is about them. This wasn't hara-kiri, it was collective suicide. Their egos are no smaller than Barak's. They are exposed as a bunch of noisy, infantile yuppies, believing that the ruckus they create will rescue the state from its troubles. When they served Barak, they flooded him with rivers of memos, simulation games, flow charts (those are the terms they use for their self-declared masterpieces, which were intended to improve his functioning and enhance his prestige). Going through those texts, which Drucker provides in abundance, one finds simplistic thinking and a superficial view of the country's problems and its political reality.

While prime minister, Barak became known for lacking good judge of character. One of the results of that flaw is the composition of the gang he chose to work with him - another result is the distorted distribution of the portfolios in his cabinet. This book, which, from Barak's point of view, reads like an informant's briefing, is proof of how great that failure was.