Gossip and Something Extra

The root of the national depression, not to say despair, lies with the leaders of the present situation; but it is also planted deep within the prophets of change, those who are now starting another centrist party.

This time I'm writing a gossip column, with an added extra something.

The new face in politics, the indictment in the Holyland affair and the investigation of the chairman of the Israel Football Association brought me back this week to the early 1970s. Ehud Olmert and I were elected to the Knesset, and we began our parliamentary careers as sanitation workers. Not only one "stable" in Petah Tikva, but all of Israeli soccer looked like one big, filthy stable, and we took on the task of cleaning it up. Our work was rewarded: The buying and selling of games ceased, although the cleanup work is never over; from time to time you have to sweep up again.

Olmert was the youngest person in his party at the time, and I was the youngest in mine. He was a fan of Beitar Jerusalem, which was about to be demoted a league, and I was a fan of Hapoel Kiryat Shmona, which played in a minor league and continued to deteriorate. Without any legal authority, but with broad public and media support, we were able to freeze the leagues - nobody went up or down a division - out of a well-founded suspicion that games were being fixed.

It was not only corruption in sports that kept us busy; Olmert waged a war on the crime families who were rearing their heads, and against then-retired general Rehavam Ze'evi ("Gandhi" ), whose ties with the major criminals turned out to be very close.

One morning I got up for work, looked for my partner, and he was no longer there; Olmert had turned to other matters, the package fell apart and was not reassembled.

About two years ago a mutual friend picked me up in his car and we drove to participate in a symposium about Iranian nuclear weapons. Like us, he was also among the gang of young MKs at the time. On the way he reminded me of a conversation that took place between us 35 years ago. The three of us were sitting in the Knesset cafeteria, the friend recalled, and Ehud said that he was in a rush and had to leave; the two of us stayed behind.

And then, continued the friend, you told me that "our friend" would end up very badly. I was shocked, he confessed: How could Yossi say such a thing. Very simple, I explained: I discern signs of greed in Olmert, and sooner or later it will bring him down. Maybe I was thinking about a poverty-stricken man and a woman who didn't know what to do and came in embarrassment to ask my advice: We asked for help from MK Ehud, they said, and a week later we received a bill from attorney Olmert.

A public figure must decide at the start of his career about his order of priorities, about what is more important to him - private hedonism or his public mission. Young Ehud had not yet decided, and he set a trap for himself. That's what I said in that conversation, but today I'm not as certain. I was young and have matured, and I've seen too many hedonists who enjoy both worlds, and only the public is losing out.

Olmert and I had another mutual friend, a famous journalist who in recent years suddenly saw the light and changed his skin. Ten years ago, in one of his articles, he portrayed Olmert as an honest man: "It's impossible to say of him that he is not a decent politician," he wrote. I don't know what devil entered me when I read those words. I phoned the writer angrily, as though I were the self-appointed inspector general: "You know that's not true, why are you making a fool of yourself and taking us for fools?"

"Prove it to me with facts," was my friend's angry reaction, and I replied: "If you open your eyes, and really want to see, you won't need proof."

That was our last conversation; we parted ways.

What can I say to you now, a generation later: If I were 20 years younger, and was thinking about starting a party which would not only be new but would also have a new message - I wouldn't invite Ehud Olmert to my house as an adviser and mentor before deciding; Olmert, of all the people in the country. A first step is sometimes a sign of the continuation, the direction. Tell me who gives you advice and I'll get an impression of who you are.

The root of the national depression, not to say despair, lies with the leaders of the present situation; but it is also planted deep within the prophets of change, those who are now starting another centrist party as a one-time temporary refuge for those lacking an opinion, for all those disappointed with Yadin, Kahalani, Raful, Itzik, Rafi, Tommy, and Tzipi and Shaul too.