Analysis / The General's Fancy

I have a good story to tell you this morning, one with more than just a small degree of ugliness, as I see it. It is the story of a reserve general who came to visit me on the eve of the previous elections - in 2003, when I was serving as chairman of Meretz - and expressed an interest in immediately joining the movement. My obvious initial joy soon turned to sadness, however.

The senior officer, clearly an ardent devotee of the military, had a wish: He wanted to be a lawmaker, and expected me to reserve a realistic spot for him on Meretz's Knesset slate. He asked, and then stood at ease - while I was meant to have jumped to attention. But I didn't jump to attention. I told him that I didn't want to reserve a place for him and, primarily, that I wasn't able to. Someone who wants to be elected as a Knesset candidate must make an effort, roll up his sleeves and join the race.

The officer took offense, stood up and left - and I didn't see him again.

Some time later, I read in the newspapers that all of a sudden, with Yahad having joined with Meretz, the quasi-new party had taken his fancy, and he was signing up and offering himself as an active partner. He explained in in-depth interviews with the media that Meretz-Yahad was his home in terms of its political positions, that he had finally found a political home.

Even then, I couldn't exactly fathom what he saw in Meretz-Yahad that he hadn't seen in Meretz; nevertheless, we welcomed him with open arms, and he was even brought into the leadership of the party.

And why am I snitching and telling you about the officer's ill-fated love affair with Meretz this morning in particular? Because this morning - surprise, surprise - he is about to be presented (along with another recently arrived senior officer) as one of the forerunners on the Kadima list of Knesset candidates. I, myself, was taken by surprise because up until just a few days ago, I hadn't heard that the love affair had ended, and that the officer had left home - left and moved in with the new apple of his eye.

I wouldn't be devoting a special column to this or the other senior officer were we not dealing here with a phenomenon that, although not new perhaps, is still worrying - and even repulsive. True, retired generals are not the only ones to be dazzled; they are not the only victims of the epidemic of blindness, as described so wonderfully in Jose Saramago's book. And maybe it isn't absolute blindness, but merely color blindness - each party and its own color. Nevertheless, the epidemic undoubtedly primarily afflicts the immune system of military men with a view to politics - and the army's chief medical officer can do nothing about it.

Perhaps the parties have lost their color, or maybe the generals and their subordinates have lost their image; both are alternatives to be considered, and both must come under close scrutiny.

Even if we are dealing with an epidemic that exacts victims indiscriminately, we could still have expected more from the retired military men. It is difficult for us to accept that they of all people - resourceful soldiers with endless stories of heroism - can appear as mercenaries and, in haste, present their party as a foreign legion. When we were trained and trained others to scamper from position to position, the intention wasn't hasty scampering from party to party.

But how can we grumble about generals and their like in the other branches of the security forces if a former chief of staff and current defense minister serves as a role model for them? Shaul Mofaz gave new meaning to the call "After me" - after me to the Likud, after me to Kadima, it makes no difference; and perhaps there really is not much difference at all.

Ehud Olmert will be presenting the Kadima Knesset list today - with Shaul Mofaz among the first 10 candidates, and the two last-minute generals among the next 20. They will exchange manly, military embraces on the stage, and wish each other fortitude.

And because we are dealing with two reserve generals, and not only "my general," and in order to avoid any unpleasantness, I am obliged to note that this column does not refer in the slightest to Major General Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael.