What Would B-G Have Done?

Ben-Gurion, a practical politician, compromised with his principles when the price appeared too high. There are three clear examples: the Korea war, Yitzhak Rabin's participation rally protesting the dismantling of the Palmach, and the establishment of the army chief rabbinate.

Camp David, July 2000. Yasser Arafat surprises everyone and responds positively to the proposals by Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton. As part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, with political gain and no bloodshed, Israel disengages from Gaza and forcibly removes the settlers. Would the withdrawal opponents (led by Ariel Sharon, of course) be stronger or weaker than they are now?

The answer cannot be more convincing than any other "if" in history. At the same time, it's nonsense to look to past leaders in other situations, like Ben-Gurion and the Altalena, the firing of national staff chief Yisrael Galili and the dismantling of the Palmach. Ben-Gurion, a practical politician, compromised with his principles when the price appeared too high. There are three clear examples: the Korea war, the participation of Yitzhak Rabin in a protest rally on the anniversary of the dismantling of the Palmach and the establishment of the chief rabbi's office in the army.

In the summer of 1950, Ben-Gurion wanted to please the Americans, who needed help repelling the invaders from North Korea. In a clear deviation from the declared mission of the Israel Defense Forces, Ben-Gurion asked the government to send a brigade from the Givati division to the foreign war. His rivals on the left, adulated by many in the army, wrote and spoke so passionately against it that it raised suspicions - subsequently disproved by a Shin Bet probe - that the commanders in Givati would lead their soldiers to a mass refusal. Finally, the government decided, against Ben-Gurion's wishes, not to send the fighters to Korea.

A few months earlier, Lt. Col Rabin disobeyed Ben-Gurion and ignored an explicit order by then-chief of staff Yaacov Dori. Rabin was put on "disciplinary trial for a violation of discipline" and admitted that "not following the order not to participate in the rally does not comply" with his sworn allegiance to obey all the orders of the supreme command.

Rabin argued during that same disciplinary proceeding that while he did not obey the orders of the military, he did not do so as a result of obeying an order from another source of authority. His argument went: "the personal feeling of duty toward the comrades - that was the order, but there is no constitution preventing a soldier, as a civilian, from participating in his free time in rallies."

Dori filed a "severe reprimand" in Rabin's personal file, and warned that the next case of an infraction of discipline (which did not come) he would face a court-martial for the initial case as well. Rabin was not thrown out of the army.

Ben-Gurion dismantled the Palmach command so that its officers did not dither between the army's chain of command, which he headed, and the party institutions. But he accepted a source of authority that was religious - the chief rabbis and the religious parties.

"Rabbi Goronchik came to see me, a representative of Rabbi Fishman and Rabbi Herzog, to be head of the military rabbis - I sent them to Yaacov Dori," Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary in 1948 about the appointment of Shlomo Goren, the candidate of Religious Affairs Minister Fishman-Maimon and Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog, whose grandson with the same name is now a minister in Sharon's government.

A few months later: "Rabbi Fishman came to see me. The rabbinical chaplains want to resign. He is delaying it. He wants to see Goronchik."

In 1963, a Ben-Gurion whim led to Goren being promoted to major general, with the agreement of then-chief of staff Zvi Tzur, who bargained in exchange for a quick promotion to major general for the head of the training department, Yeshayahu Gavish.

The special two-headed position of the chief military rabbi is the basis of the problem that arose this month when the current chief chaplain, Brig. Gen. Yisrael Weiss, said he would take off his uniform if he were ordered to do so by his rabbis. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, upon hearing what Weiss said, should have immediately ordered him to remove his uniform, but they made do with pointless clarifications that did not harm Weiss' rabbis as an alternative source of authority for him.

Mofaz and Yaalon did not want a strong new chief rabbi, which would have required the agreement of many different rabbis, but thus the IDF gave up the unity of command. If it's allowed of a brigadier general, why shouldn't another soldier listen to some other rabbi, or to his inner voice, or to the Likud rank and file?