The Gatekeeper Reaches the Gate

Yuval Diskin currently operates in a dimension that is completely absent from Israeli politics and statesmanship, the philosophical dimension. A philosopher is an odd animal in the public sphere, who asks Why? and How? and Is it okay? and Could it be seen differently?

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All six former Shin Bet security service heads who star in the film "The Gatekeepers" offer observations and insights that can be defined as no less than astonishing. The final result is agonizing and breathtaking; it is presumably the greatest shake-up in the organization's history.

But even in this exalted company, Yuval Diskin stands out. His statements in the documentary join the long list of sensational remarks he has made since leaving the agency. In his current role he presents more of a challenge than ever: to the establishment, to political leaders and to public discourse.

To understand what is going on with Diskin one must first try to understand where he is.

Diskin currently operates in a dimension that is completely absent from Israeli politics and statesmanship, the philosophical dimension.

A philosopher is an odd animal in the public sphere. The general looks at an issue and asks, How can I attack it? The technocrat asks, How can I make it more efficient? The politician asks, What's in it for me? The philosopher pauses, takes a breath and muses, Why? How? Is it okay? Could it be seen differently? Could it be different?

Zionism was primarily a practical movement. Israeliness added arrogance to that practicality. With the arrogance came cynicism and a deep scorn for anything that was impractical (and therefore "insane" or "fanciful" ). Philosophy is demoted to the edge of the bookshelf. Even within the humanities, which are themselves looked down upon, philosophy is the black sheep, a facile and offensive item, luxuries for dreamers who fail to comprehend that they are part of the "villa in the jungle."

It is no accident that one of the worst things one can do in contemporary Hebrew is to "philosophize" ("litpalself"), and that those who commit this sin are said to be "yafei nefesh" (literally, "beautiful souls," but meaning bleeding-heart liberals).

But Diskin philosophizes: with himself and his past, with us and our past. In "The Gatekeepers" he recalls a targeted assassination that he executed and begins to ask questions, questions of principle and of ethics; not technical questions ("is a half-ton bomb better than a one-ton bomb?"), not tactical questions ("isn't every terrorist who is killed replaced by a more extremist one?"), not even strategic questions ("is it in Israel's long-term interest?").

Diskin asks an almost abstract question: Is it okay? Is it right and proper to give someone the option to sit at a monitor in an air-conditioned room and to cut short, with the press of a button, the lives of his enemies together with those of their families and neighbors?

Why does he ask this? Because according to his new philosophical perspective, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." This perspective makes it possible for him to look at an important meeting at Mossad headquarters in which an attack on Iran is discussed as, in an adjacent room, chefs in white toques grill steaks and waiters pour cognac for the cigar-smoking diners.

Diskin does not mention these details for reasons of gossip or voyeurism. He genuinely wonders whether, in the greater scope of things, such a situation is logical.

It is annoying. And outrageous. And very un-Israeli. In 21st-century Israel, force and realpolitik are sacred. Everything is results-based, and the ends justify the means. But Diskin is no longer there. He is somewhere else, in a place from which he could suddenly declare before the election, that "voting with a blank ballot could make a strong statement." A white ballot is, after all, the essence of anarchy and impracticality.

But in Diskin's case we are not talking about classic anarchy, from the edge of the political map. On the contrary. His radicalism and the challenge he makes come from the heart of the military-political mainstream. His philosophy expresses a total loss of trust on the part of someone who was there, who did it all and saw it all and who recognizes that there must be another way.

The Israeli film 'The Gatekeepers.'Credit: Toldot Yisrael