Text size

When babies are born in France, their parents may choose a name only from a state-approved list. The freedom to choose in this matter is circumscribed to ensure the French identity of the child. This trend continues throughout life: In school, students are educated to develop a French identity and prohibited from expressing an allegiance to a particular religion. That is the reason for the government ban on the wearing of Islamic head scarves in schools. Well-defined and deep-rooted Frenchness is a prerequisite in political life, as shown by the infinitesimal number of immigrants from Asia in the National Assembly.

France is particularly nationalist and should not necessarily serve as an example for other democracies, but there is no country without clear-cut conditions for immigrants to receive citizenship, and even more so for those who wish to number among a country's leaders. In Ireland, for example, the right to be elected to parliament is conditioned on knowledge of the country's history and literature. In Norway, elected office is limited to those who have lived there for at least 10 years. Canada has a similar condition. Even in Australia, a country that encourages immigration, a person holding dual citizenship is disqualified from election to parliament. Expectations that elected officials closely identify with a country's heritage and values is also seen in the charters of political parties, which sometimes set limitations on who may run for the legislature, of which the most important is that the candidate demonstrate ideological and political affinity to the party and continuous membership.

In Israel, the formal route to elected office is a no man's land. Except for a minimum age (21) and the obligation to be a citizen, any individual may present his or her candidacy to run for the Knesset unless convicted of acting against the security of the state or of a crime of moral turpitude. That is true of other democracies, although in those countries, citizenship involves meeting certain minimum conditions. In Israel, by dint of the Law of Return, a Jewish immigrant may run for the Knesset a day after arriving here. Former MK Shmuel Flatto-Sharon set the precedent; he fled to Israel from the French authorities and got himself elected to the Knesset and thus obtained safety, at least for a few years, from extradition.

Arcadi Gaydamak now seems to be following his example. The Israeli and the French police have shown an interest in him, but he treats them like a speck of dust on his lapel. He goes in and out of Israeli interrogation facilities, and instead of seeming embarrassed, he disparages the caliber of the interrogators, the seriousness of their suspicions and the extent of their patriotism. Like the old woman in the Friedrich Durrenmatt play, Gaydamak goes around Israel distributing his wealth here and there, buying the hearts of people in distress and thus purchasing for himself, in every sense of the word, public stature.

Since he set foot in the Israeli arena, he has become so well-known that last week he declared the establishment of a political movement, which almost certainly means he will run for national office.

How insulting to realize how easy it is for this lord, who shouts out his alienation from the Israeli way of life and fools the populace, capturing their hearts with charity and legitimizing his pretension to be numbered among their leaders. This guest has a clear opinion of the level of public service, the quality of government conduct, the purity of those in charge of law enforcement, the sensitivity of senior officials to the needs of the citizens and the integrity of politicians. With the arrogance of a lord of the manor, who is surveying the misery of his subjects, Gaydamak recommends the citizenry depend on his diagnosis and give their votes, when that day comes, to Benjamin Netanyahu.

The legislature must intervene and set conditions for people like Gaydamak - at least to learn the language of the country - before claiming to rank among its leaders.