Why was I so mistaken

The Jewish Chronicle, 24 August 2006

By Ariel Rubenstein

Here in Israel, this is the season for commissions of inquiry. And I feel the need to appoint an internal commission of inquiry. On this committee, there will be one member (me), one witness (me) and one person under scrutiny (me). The committee will focus on the question: How did I ever become an enthusiastic supporter of Amir Peretz, the Labour Party leader, during Israel’s election campaign earlier this year?

The commission will not be required to address the question of why I voted for the Labour Party in the general elections, because I am still convinced that the alternatives were not nearly as good. And when I voted for Amir Peretz in the Labour Party primar-ies, I was convinced I was voting for the right man, but it seems that I voted for another Amir Peretz.

Here are a few of the clauses in the letter of appointment to my commission of inquiry: How did I fail to consider that Peretz, as Defence Minister, would be unable to ex-plain the war’s strategy, clearly and logically, to the public? It wasn’t only me - even such a fan of Israel as Henry Kissinger did not understand the strategy of this war. And how did I fail to see, given the ab-sence of a coherent strategy, that Peretz would not prevent such a war?

How did I fail to realise that Peretz would adopt the brilliant no-tion that Israel’s strategic surprise was to be… Amir Peretz? And that he would not order the army to wait before responding to the abduction of the soldiers in the north so that the IDF operation would really be a surprise? After all, what would have happened if Israel had waited two weeks or two months, and struck “at an appropriate time and place” - for example, at a Hizbollah victory parade in Baalbek?

How did I fail to envisage that Pe-retz would be the one to order or approve (it makes no difference), the destruction of electricity transformers in Gaza and fuel depots in Lebanon, actions which did nothing but create enormous distress for the Palestinian and Lebanese populations?

How did I fail to understand that Peretz would repeat, over and over, slogans like “Nasrallah is going to get such a beating that he’ll never forget the name, Amir Peretz”?

How did I fail to predict that Peretz’s actions would “turn back the clock in Lebanon 20 years” (as our Chief of Staff warned at the onset of the war)? That he would exploit a populism that ignores the human suffering of the other side, Lebanese and Palestinians, and is likely to swell into a cry for a “strong” leader to deal with both internal disarray and external threats.

In retrospect, I can see that I culpably failed to heed several warning signs. What, for example, was the social strategy behind Peretz’s unsuccessful foray with the Am Echad - “One Nation” - party before his return to Labour last year? Come to that, when did I ever hear Peretz analyse the socio-economic situation except by spouting slogans?

But I ignored the warnings and was trapped in a combination of fixed conceptions and wishful thinking. I was passionate about changing the national agenda and bringing the socio-economic issues to the fore. I wished to connect, via Peretz, to population groups, like the residents of development towns, who traditionally have not supported a doveish line. I had too much scorn for people (like Ehud Barak) with analytical abilities who were smitten by the sin of pride. I was too lenient towards Peretz’s sloganising style.

I know that, having spent the war sitting in the caf?s of Tel Aviv, far from the rockets, I ostensibly have no right to express an opinion about those leading us in battle. But since I was asked to support Peretz before the elections, voted for him, and even persuaded a few friends to do likewise, I have the right to express regret and examine how I came to be so mistaken.

My only public act was to participate in the democratic process of choosing a leader; and even in this I erred. This makes me sympathise with all those, including Amir Peretz, who recently have had to shoulder much weightier tasks. It must be very hard to be Defence Mini-ster… but didn’t the Labour Party have a more suitable candidate?

As a proud Jewish Zionist who finds Israel to be his only home, I must look into my own soul - and learn from the findings of my internal commission of inquiry.

Ariel Rubenstein is professor of economics at Tel Aviv and New York Universities, winner of the 2002 Israel Prize, 2006 EMET prize and a founder of Peace Now. The above is adapted from an article published in Hebrew in Yediot Achronot