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Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

During the War? Bibi Resigning – No; Inquiry Commission – Yes

Almost everyone in Israel agrees that PM Netanyahu has to resign. The question is when: during an ongoing war? Immediately after the war is over? Or after a Commission of Inquiry has its say regarding his culpability for unpreparedness in the face of the Oct. 7 massacre? Yet no one seems to be asking the ancillary question: when to set up the Commission of Inquiry itself?

Regarding the first question, both sides have a legitimate position. For the “no” crowd, the argument is straightforward: one doesn’t change the captain of the ship in the middle of a major storm. Even more problematic, if there were a clear “vice-captain,” then maybe changing the leader makes some sense, but when any such resignation would lead to political chaos (massive in-fighting within the dominant Likud party, with other coalition members trying to influence in the backrooms), such a switch would be a disaster with the (military) battles still continuing.

The ”yes” crowd have equally an equally strong case. First, Bibi himself in 2008 made a speech in which he blasted then PM Olmert for not resigning in the face of findings regarding the Second Lebanon War: “Prime Minister, you should have checked the readiness of the army, the activation of the army, the defense of the home front. I have never seen such a shift of responsibility in my life. When the failure is so widespread, the necessary step is to replace the failed prime minister.” No need to change even one of Bibi’s words here; they fit exactly the situation today, post-Oct. 7. Second, given Bibi’s clear benefit in keeping the Gaza War going as long as possible – to postpone the reckoning until after the judges in his tripartite trial present their verdict (in the hope they wouldn’t “dare” find a sitting prime minister guilty), any further decisions regarding the conduct of this war will be suspect in the eyes of many Israelis, severely undermining the war effort in lost leadership trust and lower morale.

If both sides have a good case, what to do? The answer: immediately set up the official State Commission of Inquiry. The process is done in two stages: 1) the full cabinet (“Government”) decides on whether to establish the Commission and also what it is mandated to investigate; 2) the President of the Supreme Court appoints the other members of the Inquiry Commission – not all of them necessarily justices, but rather individuals of high public trust and stature.

It is the first stage that could be problematic, for the present government might try and narrow the scope of the investigation e.g., to look at the reasons for the army’s tactical unpreparedness on Oct. 7 – thereby avoiding any examination of Netanyahu’s decade long strategy of propping up Hamas in order to weaken the P.A. (thereby undermining any possibility of a two-state solution). Given that everyone agrees that Gantz’s party will not stay in this government forever, it is critical that he (and his accompanying four other ministers) be there when such a “mandate” decision is rendered – to ensure that the Commission is given as wide a scope of investigation as possible.

To be sure, a counterargument will be raised that some of the individuals – e.g., the IDF Chief of Staff, the Minister of Defense; the Head of the SHABAK –-that have to be called as witnesses are presently too busy to show up to provide evidence. The answers to that: first, we aren’t talking about weeks of evidence; almost everything is documented so that at most they will merely have to fill in a few lacunae. Second, many of them have already voluntarily admitted personal-professional responsibility for the Oct. 7 calamity so that they won’t try to delay their appearance in order to save their skin. It is clear to all that they will resign once the Gaza War is over. Moreover, the conduct of the war itself is already under scrutiny, as IDF Chief of Staff established an Investigative Commission headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz to look into the Oct. 7 sources of unpreparedness and the IDF’s ensuing military activity in Gaza (this is not a State Commission that has far greater powers and authority).

The added advantage of having the State Commission of Inquiry starting as soon as possible is that it will (hopefully) finish its work within a few months – probably around the time of the war’s end. Indeed, with such a Commission’s ticking clock, Bibi loses any incentive to keep the war going as long as possible (assuming that he actually would do that; something no one can really know). Thus, the verdict on Bibi’s overall culpability will not have to wait many months after the war – with the Israeli street by then rife with massive demonstrations for him to resign. Rather, the country will have closure, militarily and politically, around the same time, thereby preventing further social and political turmoil.

Altogether, then, setting up the State Commission of Inquiry now can “kill several birds with one stone” – issue the public verdict as soon as possible, prevent the prime minister from artificially extending the war, and letting Israeli society and its politics switch to a less intense mode as soon as possible.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published four books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see: www.ProfSLW.com
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