Building a Country Out of a Bog

For the good people in politics - and yes, there are some of those - things have happened in reverse. Unlike King Saul, who was looking for asses but found a kingdom, they were looking for a kingdom - a public priesthood - and found quite a few asses.

For the good people in politics - and yes, there are some of those - things have happened in reverse. Unlike King Saul, who was looking for asses but found a kingdom, they were looking for a kingdom - a public priesthood - and found quite a few asses. Along the way, they also discovered a new law, joining the Law of Conservation of Matter.

This one is called the Law of Conservation of Asses. These asses are conserved not just because they carry books, but also because they carry numbers. The lucky number is 1,150,000.

We are talking about shekels - NIS 1,150,000. That's how much every MK in the Knesset is worth on the market when election time comes around. As lists are drawn up and the parties are starved for cash, they are willing to take their chances. All of a sudden, any cockeyed MK they can get their hands on becomes a precious treasure. In this way, MKs roll along from one term to the next, each time chalking up another four years. They gain, and the public loses.

Another law that has proven its effectiveness is the Recycling Law. Bottles are still being tossed all over the place, but the law works very well for people. Demand is high. Sought-after MKs have no trouble flitting from party to party in the same way that butterflies have no trouble starting life as larvae and then sprouting wings and emerging from their cocoons.

Now that the Likud has split - one part marching forward (to Kadima) and the other backward - something very humane and touching has happened. Not an MK has been abandoned to his fate. All have been gathered to the bosom of either Ariel Sharon or Benjamin Netanyahu. The competition for every head has been fierce, and has gone on until the very last minute.

When we learned the results of the race for the last MK sitting on the back bench, we also discovered that the murky, polluted waters did not run alongside the stream but straight through it. Corruption had not found a warm nesting place in only one house; it festered in at least two. We saw that there can be more than one straight line running between two rotten points. There can be crooked lines galore.

One might have hoped to find at least one measly MK turned down - just one little MK, no matter who. Someone to whom they would say no. Someone they didn't want in their group. Someone who didn't fit in. But there was none. The lucky number was just too powerful. It overcame any doubts - if there were any.

But it wasn't just the number 1,150,000. There simply wasn't anyone in either party to say, "No, we're not interested." Who would say it? Sharon and his son Omri? The fish stinks from the head down, as the Yiddish saying goes. For the Sharon family to reject someone would be ridiculous. Who are they to dish the dirt rather than shake an extended hand? So one hand wiped the other clean, and all that was left to do was count who had moved on and who was still there, who was "ours" and who was "theirs." The media helped more with the counting than with making the selection.

The other crate - the one belonging to Netanyahu, Tzachi Hanegbi, Limor Livnat, Yisrael Katz, Michael Gorlovsky and Yechiel Hazan - is also filled with rotten apples. Here, too, it never occurred to anyone to put up a "Stop! Do not enter!" sign. The sign over both courtyards says "Entry free."

No unfit candidates were found because nothing was found wrong with any of them. By what should they be judged? Birth defects? Even for the "new faces" courted by one and all on the eve of elections, corruption has never been a barrier. Last week, one such "new man" was interviewed on the radio. This man, one of the most clear-headed in the land, ranted and raved against corrupt politicians, and he claimed to be sick of them. But in the same breath, he said he would decide whether or not to join Kadima in the next few days. Give him time. Soon he'll be saying that dirty stables can be cleaned only when you're inside, rolling around in the muck. And if you can't beat `em (with a bit of surface cleaning) - join `em.

But it's not just the "new faces." Now is also the finest hour - or the ugliest - for the truly honest. Any group that has a problem with corruption looks for an exterminator, and as everyone knows, if you seek, you shall find. Quite a few of our elected public officials have made a career out of being exterminators. If Tzipi Livni, for example, joins Sharon, it's a sign that corruption isn't all that bad. If Michael Eitan joins Netanyahu and Hanegbi and Livnat, it's a sign that in this party, too, corruption is nothing but a bit of graffiti on the wall.

The air fresheners and the exterminators, even when they go their separate ways, are actually united in a common goal - to cultivate their surroundings, with its mix of fertile soil and rocky ground. The question is whether anything can be built from scratch in this Gaidamak country of ours. Can a state be built out of a bog?