Taking Stock / Ayalon the Fighter

Ami Ayalon's becoming a fashion hound.

The former Shin Bet chief and naval commander, who recently joined Labor, doesn't often speak out on civilian matters. Like many politicians, he has security on his mind.

Yet last week Ayalon published an article in Haaretz against the so-called "jobs for the boys" bills, which are two legislative proposals originating from Gideon Sa'ar, Gila Gamliel, and Gilad Ardan. They make it a lot easier for ministers to appoint party hacks and cronies to sensitive positions in government.

Ayalon is treading on solid ground: the general public, from the whitest of doves to the most strident of hawks, loathes the corruption involved in political appointments. Excepting a few Likud central committee members, the wall to wall opposition to the bills crosses every political and ideological boundary in town.

The clique of generals

You don't need to be Ami Ayalon, a fledgling politician basking in the limelight of public approval at this stage, to oppose the bills. Anybody with access to a microphone, camera or keyboard could do it just as well.

If Ayalon really wants to contribute something to the public debate on civilian matters, two other less popular matters come to mind where he could make a difference.

1. The clique of Likud central committee members, which is perennially ravenous for plum jobs, is just one of many such groups. Israel has a far more established clique of exactly the same sort, with much the same method of appointments for the boys, and Ayalon knows it well.

Yes, it's the clique of generals. Like in the case of the Likudniks, aptitude for a position and experience tend to be secondary.

The main difference is that the generals genuinely believe that after their many years of serving in the army, they are perfectly capable of managing giant civilian systems, and deserve to be put in charge of public resources, or to manage huge enterprises.

But it isn't true. Ayalon himself can attest that his years of successfully running the Navy and Shin Bet didn't assure his success as manager of the Argoquest venture capital fund, nor as chairman of the smart-irrigation systems company Netafim.

After five years in the business sector, Ayalon knows the difference between military mechanisms pampered with a plethora of resources, whose productivity is all but impossible to measure, and civilian systems expected to supply services day in and day out, whose productivity is very easy to measure.

Ayalon knows perfectly well that appointing Likud cronies or generals to plum positions in the business and public sectors isn't exactly the way to achieve "equal opportunity", that life-breath of democracy.

2. A bloody battle is being waged over the 2005 budget, over that NIS 290 million gift to the ultra-Orthodox, hundreds of millions to students and institutions of culture, science and art, and so on. Each and every budget item is being pored over with a microscope.

Maybe Ami Ayalon, as a man who understands defense matters, could begin a public debate on the biggest budget of all: defense.

As a man who knows the threats Israel faces, maybe he could ask why the 2005 defense budget is identical to the 2003 defense budget, though most of the fronts against the nation have weakened or collapsed. Iraq has dissolved, Syria is being ground into powder and forced out of Lebanon, and Egypt is toeing the American line and joining the peace process.

Maybe Ayalon, who now knows both the military and private sectors, can ask why military wages are tens or hundreds of percent higher than people earn for comparable jobs in the public and private sectors. And 90 percent of those soldiers aren't even in combat units.

Maybe Ayalon can explain to the public and Knesset members that the biggest threat to Israel is a bloated, inefficient army, which is sitting like a millstone on the public's neck.

In short, maybe Ayalon can elucidate whether that elephantine, bloated military mechanism doesn't exist in large part to create jobs for the boys.

Of course, it's much easier to mock ludicrous figures like Uzi Cohen of the Likud central committee, than to attack sacred cows like our giant defense system. Yet that Uzi Cohen and his ilk are the lesser threat.