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Cosi fan tutte - they all do it - refers nowadays to the presumed behavior of our politicians. Considering the disrepute to which so many of our politicians have fallen in recent years, it certainly sounds plausible that most of our politicians, when making appointments, have preferred the candidates' party affiliation to their qualifications and have used such appointments to bolster their chances of being reelected in the next internal party elections. After all, what can you expect from our politicians to whom we, nevertheless, entrust the fate of our nation?

Was it really always so, as is claimed nowadays? Who still remembers the long line of politicians who saw in their calling a mission that required total dedication to the nation's interest, rather than a job that would be a stepping-stone to enrichment in the future? That list is long - David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir. These were people who accepted the position of prime minister with great trepidation, in full realization of the great burden of responsibility they were assuming. It is unimaginable that they would make appointments without attaching primary importance to the candidate's qualifications. They were too responsible to act otherwise. Many of those who served under them were guided by a similar motivation.

It is said that making appointments on the basis of party affiliation was a tradition already well established during the years the Labor Party ruled Israel. This undoubtedly is true. During 29 years of Israel's existence, many worthy candidates did not have the opportunity to use their capabilities in the service of the country because they did not belong to the right political party or were politically unaffiliated.

But there is a big difference between those days and recent times. The appointments made by the Labor Party, no doubt reprehensible, were not motivated by the desire to bolster the political position of this or that politician making the appointment, but rather by the desire to strengthen the party's hegemony. No quid pro quo was involved. More recently we have been witness to politicians featherbedding their positions and building "camps" of supporters by granting favors to party members.

On coming to power, Begin promised a new start. Just take a look at his appointments, and those of Shamir as well. These two prime ministers were frequently accused by some of their party members of not favoring party members when making appointments. But nothing would sway them. They attached too much importance to their responsibility to the nation to act otherwise.

But there has been a change, and it originated in Likud. Having come to power, it was besieged by office seekers who joined the party in anticipation of being rewarded. And why not? Why should only members of the Labor Party have enjoyed the fruits of being in power? Now it was the turn of Likud members. The Likud Central Committee, the Mercaz, became a symbol of dirty politics, of the influence of ambitious office seekers and influence peddlers over the government.

It is ironic that Kadima, which broke away from Likud promising to bring a different politics to Israel, included some the worst offenders while they were Likud members. It is possible that some of those who decided to ride on Ariel Sharon's coattails into the new party were motivated by opportunistic considerations rather than by ideology.

Israel's economic growth, the subsequent emoluments and other benefits of Knesset members and the economic horizons that became open to politicians after leaving politics changed the atmosphere on the political scene. To many, politics became more than a mission, but a career, a job. The grandiose construction in the Knesset in recent years, a sad reflection of this atmosphere, cannot but create the feeling that we are moving in the wrong direction.

We have now had a wake-up call. We cannot afford to continue to have this kind of politics. Not only do we need the best people in politics, but politicians need to appoint the best-qualified people to positions where they serve the nation. Hopefully, politicians who disregard this call will be doing so at their peril.