Ten days ago, at the Sderot Conference for Society, the findings of a survey that asked respondents which politicians they viewed as ethical were presented. MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz) was not on the list. He has every right to be insulted.
On second thought, he can tell himself that he is in good company: also missing from the list of ministers and MKs who are perceived as honest were Haim Oron, Aryeh Eldad and Uzi Landau - public figures whose integrity is unimpeachable. On the other hand, the list did include Avigdor Lieberman, whose name has been associated with police investigations into the "Russian mafia," as well as Isaac Herzog, who has been suspected of transgressions similar to those for which Omri Sharon was convicted.
The "corruption index" of the Sderot Conference did not play a part in Sarid's decision to leave politics, but it does illustrate the circumstances in which he finds himself after 32 years of outstanding public service: the world of values that has guided him throughout his life has become irrelevant, at least in his perception. If his name does not appear - as something that is taken for granted - at the top of the list of politicians whose reputations are unsullied, it is a sign that something has gone very wrong in his dialogue with society: society has either become completely numb or is so repelled by Sarid that it cannot even forgive him for his decency. There is a sense of frustration that is grounded in the generation gap but also in external developments: Sarid's departure became unavoidable as a result of the failure of Meretz in the last elections and the political shifts of the past month.
Sarid joins Binyamin Begin and Dan Meridor, honest and good people whose parties spit them out because their behavioral code had become anachronistic. Sarid became a lone wolf in the Knesset, who could barely find another MK with whom he felt comfortable, and in his own party he felt his status slipping. Since he is a person who is direct and honest with himself, he elected to step down gracefully rather than grasping for the lifeline that Yossi Beilin was willing to throw him.
Sarid can console himself with the fact that his foreign policy today guides the Labor Party as well as the party of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to a large extent. The theory that sees the territories as a burden and which also denounces the moral injustice inherent in the occupation is spreading, even to the political arena; the work of Meretz is now being done by others.
At the press conference he called on Friday to announce his retirement, Sarid said he would find other channels in which to express his views in public even without the Knesset platform. He is liable to be disappointed: while publishing op-eds is a fair substitute for speechifying to the Knesset plenum, he will soon find out that his home phone will stop ringing, and that reporters no longer ask for his opinion. The media impact of his views is liable to equal that of Shulamit Aloni. That would be a pity since Sarid still has a voice that is unique, lucid and high quality. The lack of attention that he can now expect from the media will be the main cost of his decision to step down. In the book, "Sihot im Yossi Sarid" ("Conversations with Yossi Sarid"), published eight years ago by journalist Yeshayahu Ben Porat, the subject admits that he is "more than a little egocentric."
This opinionated man has had the ear of the country's media throughout his public career, even when he was the head of a small party, and this situation fitted in with his high self-regard.
Nevertheless, Sarid decided to leave politics and did so in an admirable manner. In the above-mentioned book, he settles his score with Shimon Peres: "The problem with Peres is his terrible selfishness... Shimon is not willing to leave anything to anyone else, not even table scraps." Sarid's sense of self-respect told him to end his public life; the self-respect of Shimon Peres tells him to stay close to the head of the rival political party who until only a month ago challenged him to a fight.
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