Guard Them Well

Members of Israel's exclusive leadership club, we protect at any price; soldiers and regular Israelis, we do not.

Ehud Barak said "not at any price"? There is one thing in Israel for which any price will be paid: the safety and security of those in the exclusive leadership club. VIP security here has become a farce. Were it not so expensive, we would laugh until we cried. Were it not so outrageous, it would be amusing. It is not just the NIS 100 million or so the state spends every year protecting its darlings, its elected officials. Rather, it is the disconcerting, dangerous message sent by the excessive concern for their safety.

In Israel there are "personages" and there are people. The personages we protect at any price; soldiers and regular Israelis, we do not. As such, the defense minister can tell a high-school student who will soon be drafted: "The state cannot ensure your well-being or your life," while at the same time, the state is ensuring his own life at any price. Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both risked their well-being when they were younger, but now they can go to sleep confident that not a single hair on their heads will be touched. A massive army of tough guys protects them at all times, at any price.

In this theater of the absurd, the prime minister travels in a large convoy of SUVs with deafening sirens that break nearly every traffic law. There are "sterile areas," which in plain English means dozens of guards, secret agents, bomb detectors and checkpoints wherever he turns. When he goes abroad, it is at the head of a battalion of guards. When he plays with his children at the beach he is surrounded by a phalanx of guards armed with submachine guns. His three homes, including his empty apartment, are constantly protected. Ministers and deputies and faceless individuals go to and fro while surrounded by bodyguards, day and night. The transportation minister is protected by bodyguards when he jogs on the boardwalk. The religious affairs minister enters a restaurant only after the most thorough preparations, as if it were a military operation. All of this is a combination of the perks of power, covering one's rear, self-aggrandizement and worshipping the deity of security - security that is too precious to provide the nation. This is what a banana republic, not a democracy, looks like.

It is true that a prime minister and a tourism minister were assassinated here. In Sweden, a prime minister and a foreign minister were killed, but the Swedes have not lost all sense of proportion. The lives of our public officials are precious, but no more precious than those of all other citizens. Here, soldiers and civilians are at certain times subjected to physical danger. It is inconceivable that public officials not be subjected to the same danger. Their blood is not redder; they too must place themselves at risk. It is a risk faced by everyone who rides a bus, a risk that should be faced, too, by the minister for the development of the Galilee and the Negev. The risk for both must be minimized, yet how did Barak put it? Not at any price.

It is true that there have been a few gaps spotted in the ghastly iron wall that we have built around them. There was the chief of staff's stolen credit card and the alleged spy at the treadmill next to his at the gym. The public outcry after these two foolish oversights only proved that we have lost all sense of proportion. Israel's security does not rise and fall with Gabi Ashkenazi's Visa card. The claims by some elected officials that security was forced on them is also ridiculous. There is a government in Israel, and it must make decisions, including on the fateful matter of protecting its members. Only in the most benighted regimes can the secret service dictate the government's behavior.

There is no need to eliminate security altogether, but it's time we regained a sense of perspective. Reasonable security should be provided for a small number of "symbols of government," and security should be removed from the dozens of ministers and other protected personages. The Shin Bet security service is less concerned for their safety than it is for its own status, power, influence, gargantuan budget and name. This should not come at the expense of the taxpayers or the image of the state.

We should reexamine Barak's poignant rebuke: "A nation that cherishes life, stands on its own feet, depends on itself, is sure of itself, must be ready to risk its life." And what about the defense minister? Do these statements also apply to him? It has been a while since we have heard such hypocritical, two-faced, outrageous statements from a man whose personal security is above all risk, at any price.