Regardless of where today’s leaders hail from – be it the media, political establishment, or yeshiva council – they are leading Israel down a reckless and dangerous path. It’s time to repeal the “cooling off” period, and once again open the valve to pragmatic, sober Israeli leadership.
Recently, a letter calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government to pursue peace talks with the ultimate goal of creating a Palestinian state was signed and released by 106 retired members of Israel’s security establishment. In Israel, where politics are almost completely defined by the security issue, this is a big deal and advice that should be heeded. The former IDF generals, Mossad/Shin Bet heads, and police commissioners are the elite of Israeli security apparatus and unarguably have valuable experience in protecting the Israeli home front from attack. This state of affairs creates an interesting question: why have none of these security officials taken advantage of the leadership vacuum in Israeli politics? Obviously, some of them may not be cut out for politics, some may want to avoid it, and some may not have the necessary skills to campaign; however, it seems odd that out of the 106 former security establishment officials, none have taken on Netanyahu—a career politician in relatively weak standing.
Seven years ago, the Knesset passed a law commonly referred to as the “Cooling Off” period, which banned civil servants (read: the security establishment) from running for office for three years following their retirement. Prior to this law, there had been a six month “cooling off” period. According to former Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan, the law was passed for the sole purpose of creating “a wall between the IDF and politics”. While the intention of this law may have been to create a more civil society focused and non-militarized political process, it has ultimately led to a suffocating leadership crisis in Israel.
Israel is a society formed from war. It is a small nation of a persecuted minority surrounded by numerous enemies that have dedicated many years to her destruction. As a result, the IDF and security establishment have been the source for most of Israel’s defining and strongest leaders. Yitzhak Rabin, the immortalized leader of the Israeli peace camp, served in various military roles including the Chief of Staff position before entering the political scene. Ariel Sharon, the former Prime Minister, had a promising military career before he became the pragmatic leader who uprooted the settlements in Gaza. Shimon Peres, the former President and Prime Minister of Israel, served in various military establishment roles before fighting for peace alongside Rabin. On the other hand, ideological and often destructive leaders such as Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanyahu did not stem from the defense establishment (although they did serve in the IDF).
At this point, the problem should be clear: Israel’s pragmatic, moderate, and strongest leaders stem from the defense establishment; now those very same leaders must abstain from politics for a time period that virtually erases their relevance and name recognition. The “Cooling Off” period law is suffocating Israel, depriving it of promising future leaders—and it must be repealed. Based on historical precedents, it would appear that serving in the defense establishment has provided leaders with a sobering view of the world and a clearer vision of Israel’s security situation. Former leaders of the Shin Bet and Mossad have repeatedly warned that the true danger to Israel is not as much Palestinian terrorism, as the continuing military occupation over them. This trend is noticeable among current security leaders such as Israel Police Chief Yohanan Danino, who told the Knesset that it was impossible to legislate an end to rock throwing in East Jerusalem.
The leadership vacuum has been quickly filled by those who have overly ideological, narcissistic, or ultranationalist views. These leaders have no realistic vision for Israel and lobby solely for one group over the welfare of the entire nation. This new sensationalist leadership is egotistical and weak, conning the public into believing they can deliver the moon while tripping over their own feet. Regardless of where today’s leaders hail from – be it the media, political establishment, or yeshiva council – they are leading Israel down a reckless and dangerous path. It’s time to repeal the “cooling off” period, and once again open the valve to pragmatic, sober Israeli leadership.