Home / In the Media / Morality’s chief of staff

Morality’s chief of staff

Gideon Levy | Ha’aretz

16 August 2009

Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is a moral and ethical paragon who stands atop an organization that is no less moral or ethical. Last week, he broke his silence and proved his acute sensitivity to matters of conscience: “We have not one gram of tolerance,” the chief of staff said in a loud and clear voice, referring to those who had hazed soldiers. “We ought to view this incident as a reminder of the high ethical threshold expected of us,” he said in a clear and crisp voice, referring to the affair involving Brig. Gen. Imad Fares.

However, on the same day the chief of staff – who brags of his “high ethical threshold” – made his statements, a report commissioned by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch was made public. It stated that during Operation Cast Lead, the Israel Defense Forces killed 11 civilians, including five women and four children, who were carrying white flags, an act that has been characterized as a war crime. This should have been far more shocking, but we did not hear one word about it from the chief of staff. For this, he had kilograms of tolerance.

The IDF under Ashkenazi, who demanded that the army “scour with a steel comb every platoon and squad” in response to the hazing incident, did not investigate the killing of white-flag bearers. All of a sudden the IDF – whose spokesman, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, launched a disgraceful delegitimization campaign against the rights group Breaking the Silence for daring to take shocking testimonials from soldiers – is backing an investigation of every tent. “We ought to encourage revelations,” the fearlessly investigating chief of staff said of those hectoring soldiers, as the IDF stifles any possibility of revealing suspicions of war crimes.

If only our camp were clean, clean of those who abuse soldiers, purged of the minor liars. Allowing a child to drive an IDF-issued all-terrain vehicle? Forbidden. Killing children carrying white flags? Allowed. Lying about allowing your wife to drive an army-issued car? Forbidden. Killing women? Allowed. Administrative minutiae – a wife driving her husband’s car, a son driving an ATV and the hazing of fresh recruits – are grave matters. Mistakenly killing civilians is permitted. This is the message.

If abusing soldiers is forbidden and abusing Palestinians is permitted, we are talking about two sets of morals. The result is a double standard and dehumanization. When Ashkenazi says, “As officers we are measured in our ability to serve as a worthy personal example,” he is referring to trifling matters, like the Fares farce (and now we can add to this the grotesque case of the stolen credit card). He is not referring to ethical issues or problems of conscience. The extreme care given to such trivial matters is a wonderful fig leaf for the IDF because it allows it to prove “morality” and whitewash all allegations of war crimes.

Fares, like Brig. Gen. Moshe (Chico) Tamir before him, committed minor sins. Tamir, he of the ATV, was involved in far more grievous actions, including the errant killing of civilians in Jenin and Gaza, acts for which nobody thought to demote him. When the IDF responds with such force against two accomplished officers – boy, are they ever accomplished; all our combat officers are automatically labeled with this tag – it tries to blur their real crimes and those of their colleagues.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office occasionally issues official statements that do not always jibe with the truth, though for this we will forgive. Maj. Avital Leibovich, an IDF spokeswoman, told Al Jazeera in English on Thursday that the IDF does not fire on children. Then how did hundreds of children die during Operation Cast Lead? Was it an act of providence? Nobody objected to her deceitful propaganda. But when Fares lies on the fateful question of who drove his car, his fate is sealed. We have yet to see an officer whose service was terminated due to the errant killing of Palestinians in Gaza, but when it comes to lying to a car-leasing company, that’s another matter. These are the standards by which morals are judged in the most moral army in the world. No other organization in Israel speaks so often about “morals” while committing so many flagrantly amoral acts.

The previous chief of staff, Dan Halutz, was tainted by his “light shudder on the wing” comment when asked what he felt after he dropped a bomb. And he was only referring to one bomb. He claimed that he was misunderstood. Ashkenazi is made of Teflon; nothing sticks to him, not even after the unbridled assault on Gaza and the mass killing of civilians with countless bombs. Now he can also be thought of as a sensitive chief of staff whose like we have not seen when it comes to morality. Oh, how shocked he was to hear of the wet towels that were hurled at soldiers’ backs.