Every Good Deed Shall Be Punished

Contrary to popular belief, most politicians do not seek only status and personal advancement, they also want to do good and to improve their constituents' lives. But judging by the situation on the ground, oney be better off not even trying and making do with witty remarks.

Even though MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) is in the opposition, he managed to push through a law that has far-reaching consequences on everyone's life: the law that transfers responsibility for enforcing the smoking ban to business owners. It can be assumed that a decisive majority of the public supports the transformation of the prohibition against smoking in cafes and restaurants from a dead letter into a real law, even if there may be a need to tone down the law. But as we all know, no good deed goes unpunished.

And so, last Sunday Erdan received prime-time exposure on Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country), the satirical television show. A particularly unfunny sketch squared accounts with "Gilad Tarhan (nudnik)" and his persecution of smokers. This is not "just satire"; Eretz Nehederet is a program that seals people's fates and determines the public's image of politicians. After the broadcast, one may ask: What did he need that for?

There's no area in which the Knesset has less power than when it comes to supervision of the executive branch of government. For a year and a half, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee labored over the report on the Second Lebanon War. The critical assault began even before the report was released, for its failure to determine the political leadership's responsibility. The assault, to no one's surprise, was led mainly by politicians who signed off on the report and were now warming up for the release of the Winograd Report.

In effect, there was no logical reason for a committee that is controlled by the coalition to critique the cabinet. That is precisely the reason the Winograd Committee was created. The question that would appear to be the most important one - that is, is the Knesset committee's report professional and worthy? - interested no one. The committee members, like Erdan, learned a valuable lesson: Those who do, pay the price.

The easiest thing in the world for the secretary general of the Knesset is not to do anything controversial. But attorney Eyal Yinon, the new secretary general, wants to improve the status of the parliament. In recent years, the public debate has migrated from the Knesset to private arenas such as the Herzliya Conference and the Caesarea Forum. Yinon led the campaign to hold the first day of the Herzliya Conference in the Knesset. All kinds of events are held at the Knesset, most of them less important than this one, and no one objects. But this time, prominent MKs did not even wait to see how it would go before they claimed it was mixing government and business and demanded that the plan be stopped.

All of these despair-inducing events took place within a single week. In the same week, there was also a discussion about passing a law to codify the operation of the Knesset Research and Information Center. The center is an amazing success story. Before it was created in 2000, MKs were completely dependent on the executive branch for their information. The center has made them almost entirely independent with regard to information. This is the place to mention the criticism aimed at then-Knesset speaker Avraham Burg when he established the center, who was accused of wasting resources.

The lesson in all of this is that those who dare to try to make a difference run the risk of catching hell for it; that criticism is never to the point and is always personal; that we will always assume that whoever tries to change things has a hidden, personal agenda; and that this situation is harmful and enervating.

It is of course possible that the attackee will be the attacker in another situation; that this is simply the political culture here and that all of the politicians attack and criticize and shoot themselves in the foot. It is hard not to wonder how many important initiatives and reforms never get off the ground because the people behind them lacked the courage to even begin.

Contrary to popular belief, most politicians do not seek only status and personal advancement (mainly, but not only). They also want to do good and to improve their constituents' lives. But judging by the situation on the ground, one may ask whether they are better off not even trying and to make do with witty and scathing remarks. That way, they don't take any chances.