Published in The Jerusalem Post on November 8, 1998
At first, I was dumbfounded by the provision in the recent Wye Accord which designates the CIA as chief judge, jury and adjudicator of Israeli security. Since when does Israel abdicate responsibility for assessing its national security needs to a foreign intelligence agency?
Eventually, it dawned on me that I shouldn’t be surprised at this abandonment of traditional Israeli doctrine.
Long ago, we stopped taking responsibility for our actions or owning-up to responsibility for our failures, personal and political. Disavowing responsibility is a national disease. Why should the peace process be immune?
The flight from responsibility pervades every level of our lives. If something goes wrong – at home, at work, in the community – don’t ever admit your role in the error! Don’t be a *frier* — common Hebrew slang meaning sucker. Blame it on someone or something else! And if you stand tough, you might even convince everybody around you to look away.
Take for example, Meir Zeira. To this day, the IDF military intelligence chief of the Yom Kippur War doesn’t feel any sense of personal responsibility, or any degree of shame, for the colossal intelligence failure of thirty years ago!
Ofer Nimrodi is similarly unnerved. The publisher of Maariv, jailed recently after being convicted of wiretapping and other abuses of power, has no personal sense of responsibility. It is all Yediot Ahronot’s fault. Consequently, he has no intention of resigning despite the prison sentence – and no-one expects him too. Why be a *frier* just because you’ve done something completely unethical by the journalistic standards of the Western world?
Compare this to Canada – an enlightened democracy by any standards. The Canadian fisheries minister resigned a couple of years ago, with haste, after cans of tainted tuna were discovered. It wasn’t even his fault! But it was his bailiwick, and he took responsibility.
Then there is Yaacov Berdugo, one of David Levy’s backroom boys, who bounces from one cushy government job to another picking-up fat pensions and ‘severance’ pay-outs along the way. All in the name of the poor, downtrodden Sephardi worker whom Levy purports to represent, of course.
Accused once again recently of dipping his hand in the public till, Berdugo takes no responsibility nor denies the charges. “It was all according to allowable regulations”, he protests, completely oblivious to considerations of public ethics and accountability. Poor guy, he was just following the rules, and getting away with whatever he possibly could. No embarrassment, no blushing, no responsibility to the public. The main thing is not to be a *frier*.
This explains why nobody of public weight ever has been held responsible – or is likely to – for a whole range of recent public disasters, from the Maccabia bridge collapse, to uncontrollable forest fires, to the collapse of classroom ceilings, to the Mossad’s Mashal fiasco and accidents in the army leading to death.
Our national disease — call it Acquired Responsibility Deficiency Syndrome or ‘responsibility interruptus’ — ensures that no-one will be answerable for these failures.
The syndrome is even more deeply embedded in some religious circles, because God serves as the fall guy for everything. You can hide your responsibility behind him. Three kids died in an Ofakim succa fire this fall, after their parents left them sleeping alone in the wooden hut with candles still burning. The grieving mother took no responsibility for her carelessness. “It was God’s will”, she intoned piously. “They were taken from us as penance for the sins of the generation”.
Itamar Doron, the Breslau Hassid who was murdered by the natural mikveh in the hills below Moshav Ora, never armed himself on his lone outings in the forest, despite warnings from friends. He would respond dismissively to these entreaties, his mourning father would later recount. “If it is God’s will, He will protect me”, Doron would say.
And I say that this is nonsense, the foolishness of religious simpletons, who haven’t learned their Talmud. “Adam muad le’olam” — man has total responsibility for his actions and all their negative outcomes – teaches Tractate Baba Kama (3b). “Anyone who had the authority to prevent, or even to protest, a wrongdoing — and doesn’t — carries the iniquity on his Heavenly record”, instructs Tractate Shabbat (44b).
And now the ‘responsibility interruptus’ syndrome extends to the diplomatic process too. Likud blames Labor: it saddled us with this rotten accord in the first place. And Labor blames Bibi: his feet-dragging has caused all the troubles ever since. Ministers can savage the accord in public and vote against it, yet stay in the government — because they accept no ultimate responsibility for anything that happens on their watch.
In essence, no-one is responsible for the failures of the peace process, you see. Except perhaps Washington and the CIA.