The People Will Judge and Decide

Unlike other committee members, whose positions I respect, I have decided to act and facilitate implementations of the panel's recommendations on public discourse by striking while 'the iron is hot.'

In the second chapter of the Winograd Committee's final report are two statements highly relevant to my public activities after its publication. The first paragraph states: "The aim of the report is to create a quality basis for intelligent public debate on the behavior of government, as on the issue of the suitability of elected officials."

The 40th paragraph states: "The responsibility for decisions and actions realized ... by the political system and the public - with regard to the political echelon."

It is regrettable that these two paragraphs did not ignite a public discourse, because they charge the public with the authority and responsibility to judge its elected officials. This is self evident as far as democratic principles are concerned. They establish that one of the report's main goals is to serve as a basis for intelligent public debate.

Since the government has the responsibility to ensure the country's future, it is the duty of the political system and the public to ensure its required quality. But there are two stubborn facts of reality opposing this. Instead of relying on the democratic process, wide sectors of the public put the responsibility for the task of determining who shall lead the country following the Second Lebanon War onto the Winograd Committee.

Now the public is disappointed that the committee didn't produce personal conclusions concerning the political leaders. Even worse, to say the least, is the poor quality of public debate on the subject. I believe that shaping excellent strategies and radically improving the decision-making process are of the utmost importance. But the truth must be said: unlike Tolstoy, for example, who denied the importance of leaders, it is clear that a small number of people, 300 to 400, determine 60 percent of the country's future as far as it depends on us.

And less than thirty of them are politicians, headed by the prime minister and ministers of defense, foreign affairs and finance, who make the most important decisions on their responsibility and at their discretion, with or without proper consultation with their colleagues, advisers and staff units.

Hence the critical importance of the quality of the public's decisions on electing its leaders and of the public's duty to choose its political positions on the basis of responsible, in-depth consideration.

Here, my scientific specialization, including its theoretical, professional and applied interests in improving the ability to govern, with an emphasis on the qualities required to shape a thriving future enters the picture. As far as I'm concerned, this is not about making a living or my status, but about a sense of duty and a lifetime's mission. I will not conceal that since my youth I have been affected by the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Gittin, 55b-55c). The story says that the reason for the Second Temple's destruction in the first century CE was that Rabbi Zecharia Ben Avkolos did not protest or defend Bar Kamtza when the host of a banquet publicly insulted him and insisted he leave the event.

I am not comparing Israel's situation to the Jewish people's situation during Roman rule and I wouldn't dream of ranking myself as one of this generation's great sages. But I feel that I too have a duty to contribute to society by challenging failures and improving the leaders' and public's ability to make judgments. I try to fulfil this task to my best ability by my professional contribution to improving choice processes concerning issues that determine the future, including positions adopted by the public.

This mission corresponds with one of the Winograd Report's main goals - fostering an intelligent public debate. But unlike other committee members, whose positions I respect, I have decided to act and facilitate implementations of the panel's recommendations on public discourse by striking while "the iron is hot."

For in a month or two, after a proper "cooling-off period," it is doubtful whether the public, the political system and the heads of government will still be open to deal with the committee's findings and recommendations.

This is why I decided to take part in several public debates, give selective media interviews and hold personal meetings with a small number of the country's leaders, who are in charge of applying the lessons of the Second Lebanon War.

One of the interviews I agreed to give was to the Maariv newspaper, at its request. A main focus of the interview discusses a sort of guide to the public on how it should consider its political positions: such as what weight should it give to personal responsibility for past actions as compared to consequences for the future.

For example, how would changing the prime minister affect the peace process; is past failure a guarantee for self-improvement in the future, or vice versa, would it block learning for psychological reasons. In evaluating consequences, should we regard the peace process as a move that has a real chance or as a mere spin, etc. etc. All these considerations add up to a personal, subjective-ideological decision, but it must be based on systematic consideration as to which government composition to prefer.

All this is based on a professional, almost clinical approach, similar to the advice I have given prime ministers of various parties for years. I do not recommend to the public what political positions to choose, but how to improve the process of establishing one's personal preferences and positions. This has nothing to do with expressing my personal political stances, which I have refrained from doing for many years, so as not to obstruct my main, professional contribution to the state's future.

There is certainly no connection or overlap between suggesting a sort of "considerations map" to the public and the Winograd Committee's deliberations. For these two rely on completely different methods, in particular when to quasi-judiciary issues are at stake, such as imposing personal responsibility.

But I discovered, to my disappointment with myself, that despite having dedicated most of my life to efforts to understand governance, politics, policy and society - I was not familiar enough with the media. Misleading headlines in the newspaper that interviewed me fell on me like a bolt from the blue, although it had been agreed that nothing would be published except the complete interview as a whole.

I don't wish to assess how much was a genuine mistake or whether marketing considerations were put above the rights of the interviewee and the public interest. But the result was obvious - politicians were quick to leap on the bandwagon.

With a few honorable exceptions, they all rushed to judgment without bothering to check with me what I had actually said. Many commentators also issued a guilty verdict against me without a shred of concern for the norms of natural justice.

If I was personally hurt, I'm responsible for it. But I am sorry for the groundless accusations made against the Winograd Committee. I am even more worried by the deep sickness of parts of the media, politics and public commentators, as reflected in their comments on a distorted headline. This is not a good omen.

Yehezkel Dror is founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, an Israel Prize laureate and professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was a member of the Winograd Committee.