And Thank You for the Shame

Integrity is not an absolute value, but is in effect measured relative to the contribution of the public figure in other spheres.

Now that it looks as though we can sum up the days of this government, the balance is not entirely negative. This government is leaving behind one significant legacy, and such an important legacy that this government was worth having even if only for that: This is the government that restored the value of shame to our public life.

Whereas in the past demonstrations and campaigns such as "Where is the shame?" failed, with this government it succeeded. Without it, we would probably have continued to wade in the worthless waters of corruption, with a feeling that this is a natural phenomenon that we cannot do anything about. After all, we have already become accustomed to it, and we have always put off dealing with it due to more urgent business, such as war and peace. We didn't even demand a sense of shame. And then along came this government and taught us that there is a link between the processes - corrupt people may be able to wage failed wars, but they are certainly not capable of bringing peace. They lack a moral mandate.

It should also be said to the credit of this government that with the outrageous behavior of its head and several of his colleagues, it has undermined the coexistence between corruption and shamelessness. If an unknown Greek island still has some sordid sex appeal, cash-filled suitcases and envelopes stuffed with bills display contempt for our aesthetic sense. They shame us no less than their recipients.

And yet, only a small part of the credit goes to a public reaction that is still not motivated by ethical considerations; the change stems mainly from a great fear that has befallen the public figures. A positive fear, the loyal bodyguard of shame. It's enough to listen to the elected officials in order to discern the change: Every politician and public figure makes sure to declare publicly the importance of his clean hands and his modest behavior. They condemn not only bribery, but greed, ostentation and hedonism as well. That is also a matter of fashion: until recently it was fashionable to be socially oriented, now fashion dictates that certificates of integrity and modesty be presented to the public.

You may say, justly, that this is nothing more than pretense and lip service. But even in order to pretend you have to recognize shame as a value. The public, for its part, is happy for the moment to restore to itself at least an appearance of power, when in the game of cops and robbers that it is now playing with its elected officials, it has now assumed the role of the cops.

Without downplaying the contribution of this government to change, we must admit in all fairness that this change also stems from a cumulative effect that began with other governments, such as those of Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon.

We should also admit, in all fairness, that we were more forgiving toward them. Integrity is not an absolute value, but is in effect measured relative to the contribution of the public figure in other spheres.

Ehud Olmert did not cross the Suez Canal in a daring operation, he barely succeeded in receiving a slot on the Likud slate; he spent "the spring of his youth" in the firm of attorney Uri Messer; and still, really and truly, his great sin is not corruption, but failure. But that is already a problem of our norms and of the absence of a genuine ethical discourse. For the time being, let us make the most of the return of shame. Until the elections, at least.