by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post International Edition
November 15, 2000
Intelligence and wisdom are commonly considered to be on one continuum. They are not. Wisdom, a moral quality, has little to do with intelligence, the ability to manipulate words and symbols. Intelligence, the Talmud informs us, is among the qualities determined at conception. Yet that does not contradict Maimonides assertion that whether a person is wise or foolish depends on him.
No doubt three years at Yale Law School should have been enough to firmly establish the disconnect between intelligence and wisdom. But my classmates and I were only too ready to assume that our percentile ranking on the LSATs was also a measure of our moral stature.
It took the spectacle of a second Israeli prime minister brought down less than half way through his term to bring the point home in its full clarity. No country in the world can boast of successive leaders with higher IQs than Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. Yet 18 months after being elected with 56% of the vote, and after taking office with nearly two-thirds of the Knesset in his coalition, Barak finds himself in exactly the same situation as did his predecessor: deserted by his former allies, trusted by no one, ridiculed in the press, and plummeting in the polls.
To be sure, the dysfunctional Israeli political system and coalition politics contributed to the premature fall of both men. And some of their failures have been intellectual, not just ones of character. Barak, for instance, seems capable of thinking only in tactical terms – single-mindedly focused on one objective at a time – the trait that allowed Natan Sharansky to defeat him in seven moves in chess.
Yet their failings have been primarily ones of character. More than a whiff of scandal and corruption attached to both men from the beginning of their premierships: Netanyahu had his Amedi and Barak the fictitious non-profit organizations that played such a large role in his campaign.
``Multiply advice and increase wisdom" our Sages teach.Yet both Netanyahu and Barak attributed to themselves such unique insight and analytical ability that they felt little need to consult with anyone outside of a small circle. No one knows, for instance, on what basis Barak concluded, contrary to all Israeli strategic doctrine for thirty years, that the Jordan Valley rift is no longer vital to Israel’s defense.
By the end of his term, Netanyahu was not trusted by anyone in his own party, and Barak has done no better. His ministers, closest associates, and ostensible allies find out about each new shift in policy together with the rest of the country.
In the military, one can issue orders and expect that they be obeyed. In the wider world, one must establish more basic human connections to reach one’s goals. A politician does not have to be universally beloved, as Ma’ariv’s Amnon Dankner pointed out, but there must at least be someone who likes and trusts him. Since the summer, Barak has been deserted by the director and deputy director of the prime minister’s office, as well as his highly regarded media advisor.
The habit of command has rendered Barak the most incompetent negotiator in memory. He has repeatedly offered valuable bargaining chips for nothing in return and begun negotiations at his red lines, as if he could impose his will at that point without further give and take.
Barak is Israel’s most decorated soldier and Netanyahu served under him in a crack anti-terrorist unit. Yet their unquestioned physical bravery has not translated into political courage. Barak, like Netanyahu before him, gives the impression of being completely driven by events rather than controlling them. True, his self-confidence appears unshaken, even delusional, but time after time it has been revealed to be mostly bluff and bluster. From the first, he has shown no ability to resist pressure from his American patron, who worked so hard to ensure his election.
The root problem appears to be that neither man has a higher goal than gaining and retaining power. (One wonders retroactively whether even their physical bravery did not partake at least as much of the desire for glory as idealistic devotion to a particular cause.) Netanyahu was prepared to sign away virtually the entire Golan Heights to win reelection. And Barak’s zig-zags – the on-again, off-again secular revolution, his inability to decide for two successive days whether Arafat is a negotiating partner or not – have become grist for the comedians’ mill.
In our current state of desperation, Israelis would be prepared to forgive their prime minister a great deal, if only they felt he believed strongly in something and had a clear vision of how to get there. Alas, their leaders have given them little cause for confidence on that score.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
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