Floating Voter / Pity Omri, Pity Us All

I want to tell you all about a phone call I received Saturday evening. I've known the person who called me for decdes - a former politician - who apparently wanted to talk to someone who could reassure him. Was he reassured?

He asked me to pass his words on, but without identifying him, and I acceded:

Listen up, Sarid my buddy (he said). I'm totally confused by now and maybe you can help me get my thoughts together. We had guests over on Friday and Saturday, and everyone was full of sympathy for that Omri, the prime minister's son. We Jews are, of course, merciful people going way back - so they say - but I don't remember seeing so much sympathy in my lifetime. Do you, like everyone else, think the judge was cruel to sentence him to prison for nine months? Your opinion is important to me.

I'll tell you what I think: I actually think the judge went easy on him. After all, this nice guy broke some serious laws. He didn't "exceed the election budget"; he baldly disregarded and broke all the laws. And raised millions - six times more than allowed - in dirty money. And we still don't know who gave him those millions because he clammed up like a fish that stinks from both the head and the tail, as they say. And then he perjured himself, signed false documents and obstructed the investigation. So why are we supposed to sympathize with him or show mercy? And what exactly do people want from the judge? I think she showed mercy.

My guests argued that all politicians are the same, that they all do the same thing and that's why they were all surprised at the harshness of the sentence and refused to comment. You've known me for a long time, from when we were both in the Knesset and in the cabinet. You know better than anyone else that my whole life I've always tried to do the right thing, and suddenly I find myself in a group where I don't belong. What are they to me?

And this weekend I heard another claim - that good 'ole Omri did us a huge favor by confessing to a few of his actions in a plea bargain, which helped out the detectives and the prosecutors and the judges, and saved time and expense. I'll tell you the truth - I've got my own perspective on that deal: The guy simply didn't want a trial because in a trial the net is widened. All kinds of questions get asked and you have to answer them, documents are revealed, witnesses give their testimony. And it's right before the elections and it's better for a criminal to finish up his case quickly and lock his skeletons back into their closet before new ones jump out. That's why I wasn't impressed by the noble gesture of the new prince of good government, who refused to answer the question of who gave you and your brother and your father all that filthy lucre and in exchange for what.

For days now I haven't stopped hearing about that poor guy, who despite everything is a good guy who loves his father and animals, too, so why does everyone go after him? I haven't known too many criminals in my life, but I know from reading books and newspapers that criminals are sometimes charming people who do good things and are great friends - not only to other criminals - and they even keep pets at home.

You too, Sarid, you have kids and they love you - one must hope - and you probably raised them to do good deeds, and they know what is right and what is wrong, and I raised my own children the same way. We have the right to ask, with all due respect, what kind of education Gilad and Omri got from their parents. I don't want to sound arrogant, but still: Both of my sons - you know them - are no less successful than the sons of the prime minister, maybe even more so, and they never had any help from me and I couldn't help them; I always was wary of doing that out of the fear of suspicions of nepotism. Thank God they managed on their own, without using their father's name, and I have no complaints.

So what do you say: Do you think I should feel like a sucker? Now, when that jewel - or is it jewel thief? - is being wrapped in compassion and mercy. How should I look back? In anger, in frustration, in jealousy, in pride? Do you have any advice for me?

With that, my old friend, whose turns of phrase I always loved more consistently than the content of his speech, ended his piece.

I'm asking you to write about our conversation, he said. I pressed him to allow me to reveal his name in order to give more meaning to his statements. He refused, despite all my supplications. He explained it like this: What do you want from me - you want people to laugh at me for my criminal nerdiness? Even worse, for them to pity me like some criminal? That's just what I need, pity, at my age.