Nothing could have been more predictable than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s announcement last week about the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the submarine affair.
“Gantz appointed a frame-up commission headed by someone who said the prime minister must resign,” Netanyahu told a Likud Knesset caucus meeting, adding sarcastically, “It’ll be very interesting to see his conclusion.”
He was referring to retired Judge Amnon Straschnov, who served as military advocate general and as a judge in the Tel Aviv District Court. Two years ago Straschnov published an opinion piece in Yedioth Ahronot in which he wrote: “If I were Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ... I would recommend, Mr. Prime Minister, that you quit your post as early as now.”
The commission’s first meeting, scheduled for Monday, has been postponed at Mendelblit’s request until the scope of its activity has been defined. The commission is expected to submit a final report in about four months. But that didn’t stop Netanyahu from quickly declaring that the panel’s purpose is “to reach a foregone conclusion.”
Netanyahu prepared the ground for a total rejection of the commission’s findings, should they include even the slightest flaw in his conduct in the purchase of submarines and patrol boats. That means that not only Netanyahu but also a large number of Israelis are likely to view the conclusions through the lens of their political affiliation, irrespective of the facts, the evidence and the explanations in the report.
In light of this situation and of Israel’s political polarization – between left and right and between supporters and opponents of Netanyahu – only maximum transparency regarding the commission’s work will lead the public to trust its conclusions. The problem is that in announcing the commission, Gantz only said that its conclusions would be transparent to the public.
Straschnov, however, has decided that the panel’s first meetings would be closed to the public, on the grounds of information security. According to a Defense Ministry statement, later meetings that do not deal with classified topics will be open to the public and members of the media; the transcripts of all classified sessions will be distributed later on, after classified material is redacted.
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It is not too late to fix this mistake. When one political camp is convinced that the opposition, the judicial system and the media have conspired against the prime minister in order to oust him, and the other is positive that the submarine affair is the most egregious corruption scandal in Israel’s history, it is imperative that nothing be left to the public’s imagination. It is important that the sessions be open not on account of the public’s right to know, but rather because that is the only way the public can draw its own conclusions.
Gantz must quickly fix this. It is not enough for the commission to get to the truth; it is no less important that its conclusions are granted public legitimacy.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.