Dear Google, Please Help These People Erase Their Checkered Past

Plenty of Israelis would love to have the right to be forgotten. Like when you-know-which Yair said Zeno lived in the 16th century.

Nimrod Glickman

Do we have the right to be forgotten? That's the big question nowadays, following this month’s landmark ruling by the EU Court of Justice ordering Google and other search engines to obey people who wish to delete embarrassing details about themselves from the Web.

The EU ruling caused a worldwide sensation and escalated the debate about privacy and the right to be forgotten in the digital age. It also prompted a deluge of requests by people – from convicted felons to paedophiles to politicians to ordinary Joes who did something embarrassing in their past and would prefer to have their humiliation permanently erased.

There are quite a few people in Israel too who might dearly love to see some humiliating moments gone, starting with:

The finance minister who couldn't

Merely trying to track down all of Finance Minister Yair Lapid's online floundering might lead some Google engineers to take their own lives. Testimonies that he smoked marijuana though he adamantly claims he never did; the time he wrote that the Greek philosopher Zeno lived in the 16th century - the list goes on. And on.

Odds are, the thing Lapid would most like to have forgotten right now is his promise made less than a year ago not to hike taxes or impose more budget cuts. With the Bank of Israel warning that Israel needs to makes cuts and raise taxes of 18 billion shekels to meet 2015’s deficit target, it seems Lapid might soon be terminally embarrassed.

The parliamentarian who made a fateful confession

If newbie parliamentarian Adi Kol could have anything of her digital self disappear, it would probably be the unfortunate opening to the Facebook post that destroyed her public image last March.

The story is this: Last July, Kol of the Yesh Atid party made a bold move: she violated coalition discipline and abstained from voting on the government’s “governability law”, against her party line. She was instantly punished by her party leader, Yair Lapid, but gained much goodwill among the public. Many saw her as a courageous politician willing to risk her career for her conscience, a rare bird in the murky opportunistic waters of Israeli politics.

Kol was forced to apologize for her disloyalty, but her humiliation only strengthened the public sympathy. That is, until March - when she posted an infamous Facebook status whose first line read: “Today I will vote for the governability law, even though I don’t agree with it, and certainly don’t think it will lead to better governability”.

In a text that has since been brutally parodied, Kol lamented that she must do something that is completely against her beliefs, all “for Yair Lapid. Not the finance minister. Not the leader. The man."

The public saw this as a cowardly, shameful surrender, and a desperate ploy to save her career. Come next elections, most probably, her political career will be over, and all because of one status with a terrible first line

Bibi and Sara: That house. And that soap. And that flight

Earlier this month, the government approved a plan to build a new residence for Israel’s prime minister, costing some NIS 650 million – that's about $185 million. Also, the government agreed to buy executive jets for the offices of both the prime minister and the president. Both plans were highly controversial, because it is, after all, a time of economic downturn.

What makes the whole thing entirely embarrassing was the resurfacing of a video from 2009 where Netanyahu, then head of the opposition, vehemently criticized a similar plan by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.

In the video, a viral mega-hit in Israeli circles, Netanyahu laments: “At this time of economic crisis, how can they make this decision, to build a new residence for the prime minister at two-thirds of a billion shekels? We have deficits, we have needs…”.

Boy, if only the Netanyahus could delete that pesky video. And any picture showing That Dress that Sara wore for the Knesset’s inauguration. And that thing with the overblown travel expenses. And the soap. And the ice cream. And the scented candles.

A banker and a tycoon do lunch

Rakefet Russak-Aminoach, CEO of Bank Leumi and Israel’s foremost banker, would probably like Israelis to see her as a strong, maverick woman who became the youngest chief executive in the history of Israeli banking. But there's that old photo from 2010, showing her having a friendly lunch with now-disgraced former tycoon Nochi Dankner, back when she was head of Leumi's business division and he was Israel’s most powerful businessman (and still solvent).

That photo, buried in the archives of search engines and news sites after having elicited absolutely no response when it was taken, resurfaced in social networks last years when Russak-Aminoach decided, as head of Bank Leumi, to forgive Danker NIS 150 million worth of debts. As the media pounced and public howled, she had to backtrack.

The picture then followed her to a very contentious recent interview at Channel 2’s investigative television show Uvda on relationships between Israel’s tycoons and bankers. It continues to pop up at inconvenient times.

The dead

Truth be told, if someone wants to have his sins and embarrassment forgotten, he needn’t appeal to Google. All he needs is to pass away.

Death would lead to a maudlin flood of laudatory eulogies that washes away any trace of a person’s faults. Upon death, Israelis tend to forgive and forget: they forgave former prime minister Ariel Sharon for the First Lebanon War and his corruptions, and forgot at least some of actor and filmmaker Assi Dayan less-than-worthy artistic endeavors when he passed away this month.

Quite possibly, for some people, dying isn’t too high a price to be rid of their past.
 

Olivier Fitoussi
GPO
Moti Kimche