Transparent Imperviousness

Shimon Peres wants to change the Basic Law on the President of the State so the vote in the Knesset for selecting a president will be open and not secret as the law currently stipulates.

Shimon Peres wants to change the Basic Law on the President of the State so the vote in the Knesset for selecting a president will be open and not secret as the law currently stipulates. On the other hand, he is annoyed that his (censored) testimony before the Winograd Committee was made public and caused him an unpleasant experience. His discomfort at the comments to his statements in the committee was such that the panel apologized to him and included their apologies in their arguments to the High Court of Justice as part of their legal effort to delay the publication of the testimonies of the prime minister, the defense minister and the former chief of staff.

We have learned that just as pornography is a matter of geography, transparency is a matter of opinion. Politicians are eager to reveal their decisions and actions when they deem these to be worthy, but they are fervently protective of their misdeeds when these may embarrass them. When a public figure finds himself in a situation in which his behavior comes under intense scrutiny, he is prepared to assume exceptional contradictions to avoid exposure.

Evidence of this are the desperate attempts of President Moshe Katsav to hide and stymie the investigation against him - the same president who, throughout his tenure, chased after the media in his efforts to attract its attention and complained that it was ignoring him. Evidence to this is the silence of Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson when he is now asked by journalists about suspicions attributed to him in relation to his behavior while he served as chairman of the National Workers' Organization and head of the March of the Living project. Evidence of this is the prime minister, who is angered by the media's indifference to what he considers to be his government's achievements, but who now persistently pleads with the Winograd Committee to withdraw the decision to make public the transcripts recording his version of the Second Lebanon War.

The presence of the media makes the conduct of the affairs of every organization more difficult, and even more so in the case of the state. There is also logic to the claim of the authorities that the quality of internal deliberations is undermined if these are exposed to the public. Clearly, this is a relevant argument when obvious security-related issues are involved. Moreover, following the conditional order issued by the High Court of Justice on Monday, which called on the Winograd Committee to justify within eight days its failure to publish the transcripts prior to issuing its interim report, the dispute over this issue has become trivial.

In any case, the conclusions of the interim report are supposed to be published by the end of the month, so a two-week delay in the release of the transcripts changes nothing. On the face of it, the required conclusion is to let things be, giving the Winograd Committee the time it needs to complete the first part of the job and be patient for a few more days until the government's conduct in last year's Lebanon war is revealed, including the transcripts that record its deliberations.

However, the issue at hand is one of principle and norms, much more than it is a practical one. Contrary to the government's view (and that of the committee) which claims a monopoly over all information pertaining to the war, stands the right of the public to know. Facing the government's claim of a right to keep its security-related discussions secret, stands the principle of the public legal or semi-legal process. Against the annoyance to the government leadership because of the exposure of its decision-making process, stand the lives of individuals lost as a result of these decisions.

Just like the first war in Lebanon, so the Second Lebanon War requires detailed examination: If in June 1982 the root of the failure stemmed from being deceived, in July-August 2006 the source of evil lay in the clumsy conduct of the country's leadership. This matter is crying out for an in-depth and courageous examination and by its nature requires maximum exposure (apart from matters that with "near certainty can seriously harm state security").

They said about Ehud Olmert during the war that he is behaving like an attorney preparing his letter of defense for a committee of inquiry. The current dispute over the release of the transcript of testimonies will contribute to a situation in which, henceforth, the heads of state will conduct themselves with the knowledge that their statements stand a chance of being revealed to the general public, soon after the events took place.

We can assume that in view of this fact, the quality of their deliberations, the level of their considerations, the honesty of their arguments and the nature of their decisions will be significantly different from those of eight months ago.