The prolonged investigation of former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was a double miscarriage of justice — against both Ashkenazi and the general public, which, for example, was forced to watch the horror show staged by Construction Minister Yoav Galant on Israel Channel 2 television Friday night.
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The retired major general, now a senior cabinet member, sat there and accused Ashkenazi of treason and sedition. Galant said Ashkenazi’s actions in the Harpaz affair (which involved a forged document meant to keep Galant from succeeding Ashkenazi as chief of staff) were “the worst in the state’s history,” worse than the Bus 300 affair (involving the murder of detainees, a cover-up and the framing of innocents) and the Lavon Affair (the amateurish and disastrous handling of a spy ring and sabotage in an enemy state).
One could argue, sardonically, that judging by this performance one could truly claim it was necessary to do everything possible to keep a person like Galant from becoming chief of staff.
But speaking seriously, the anticipated prosecutorial recommendation to close the case against Ashkenazi is dramatic, but not from a legal perspective. The majority of Israelis are not up on the details of what has become known as the “Harpaz document affair.” They understand only one thing: that Ashkenazi is the only person in Israel who could defeat Benjamin Netanyahu. That’s not to say that Ashkenazi must be handled with kid gloves, and certainly not that he should be immune from criminal prosecution. But it does mean that if the attorney general decides to get off his case, then it’s time to move on.
Yossi Verter reported in Haaretz that Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is courting Ashkenazi vigorously. It’s astonishing that the heads of Zionist Union aren’t doing the same thing. Considering their position, they should be camping outside Ashkenazi’s door around the clock. How symbolic, that even when it comes to this modest task for the opposition, Lapid is ahead of Zionist Union; he even declared last week that in the next election he would challenge Netanyahu for the premiership.
The fundamentals of Israeli politics dictate that Ashkenazi is the perfect candidate to lead the sane camp. In fact, it seems he must have been cloned for this task by scientists. A former chief of staff, from the Golani Brigade yet, a proven security-minded man, who even had a stint as director general of the Defense Ministry. A man of the people and a straight-talker, at least according to the reputation that has followed him from the political satire sketch show “A Wonderful Country” (few people actually really know him). And of course, of Mizrahi origin. His successful life began in the cooperative farming community of Moshav Hagor, not Tel Aviv’s comfortable Ramat Aviv neighborhood. He is everything Lapid and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog never were, and never will be.
Israeli politics are limiting, frustrating and often disappointing Still, the thought of Ashkenazi facing off against Netanyahu is a midsummer night’s dream. Let’s see Netanyahu try to paint Ashkenazi as a post-Zionist bleeding heart, or to scare away the masses from him with tall tales about Arabs in buses flocking to the polling stations. After all, Ashkenazi was there for Netanyahu during moments of truth. Who could do a better job at looking Netanyahu in the eye and setting him straight? What retired general and then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai did to Netanyahu in five minutes of debate, Ashkenazi can do to him over a period of months.
Netanyahu can be beaten. He is far from invincible, and he is not especially popular. The only thing needed is the right candidate. Ehud Barak trounced him resoundingly in 1999. Ariel Sharon was expected to do so in an even bigger way in 2006. In Sharon’s absence, even Ehud Olmert beat Netanyahu.
If only Israel were a normal Western country, in which there was no need for a decorated general in order to defeat the right wing at the polls. But that is not the case. At the moment, little is known about Ashkenazi’s positions, and there is justified concern that his election would not usher in meaningful change. At this stage, one thing is clear: Only Ashkenazi can beat Netanyahu, or at least prevent the depressing scenario in which the person challenging Netanyahu over leading the country is indeed Yair Lapid. Preventing such a scenario is a worthy goal by any account.