'Israel's Barack Obama': Why was one of the Jewish state's top soldiers barred from the election?
In May last year, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak accused the former head of the Israel Defense Force, Gabi Ashkenazi, of bribery and corruption, a charge the long-serving officer denied. The apparent smear campaign stemmed from a scandal known as the Harpaz Affair, where IDF members close to Ashkenazi reportedly appointed his successor using a forged document.
But the persecution has not ended there and Israeli commentators believe there is a more political motive behind the accusations.
Ashkenazi had been widely touted as a leader for Israel’s left. Known as the Barack Obama of Israel, in the past he has been unafraid of standing up to the Knesset. The son of Bulgarian and Syrian Jews and former head of Israel’s Northern Command, his opinions hold clout with many in the Jewish state.
But what appears to be a concerted campaign against him by the political elite may stymie any chance of his running for office. When asked about the rumors of his desire to move into politics, he always gives the same answer: “All options are on the table.”
The attorney general has refused to reopen the Harpaz case but the release of the state comptroller’s report into the affair earlier this month, after a two-year investigation, led to fresh calls for a criminal probe, with Barak going as far as calling Ashkenazi’s behavior “a moral stain and an ethical disgrace that must be condemned and uprooted.” However, according to Ashkenazi, the report exonerates him of any wrongdoing.
Ashkenazi has shocked nationalists in the past by calling for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, settlement deconstruction and warning against a potential attack on Iran. Some Israeli sources believe he was booted out of the IDF because of these positions, in a campaign led by those at the highest levels of government.
Following his dismissal from the army, a movement was started to pass a law, known as the “Ashkenazi bill,” that would allow him to run for office. At present, IDF members of Ashkenazi’s rank are banned from running for three years after they leave the forces.
However, the bill failed in spectacular style when not a single minister voted for it. Despite the dismissal, the “let Ashkenazi run” campaign, led by Kadima and Labor Knesset members, gained huge support on Facebook.
The law to disbar IDF officers from running passed four years ago, just long enough to keep Ashkenazi out of the current elections, in which Netanyahu has come under fire from his own security chiefs making a Palestinian state impossible.
Many on the right see any territorial concessions on lands captured in 1967 - the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza - as giving in to terrorism. Paradoxically, the potential for Arabs to outnumber Jews in Israel as it annexes large swaths of the West Bank have led the center-left to label Netanyahu’s coalition “anti-Zionist.”
But for Ashkenazi, the campaign of persecution continues. The test of his political will may have to wait another four years as he stands on the sidelines of this right-wing Israeli election.