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So What if I Stole?

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Illustration: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Illustration: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Eran Wolkowski

There’s a straight line between the death of Amos Oz and the upcoming election. A straight line connects the intellectual’s death with the erasure of the values of integrity and decency (we’ll call this “morality”) from the public square.

The era of intellectuals whose influence derived not from a narrow partisan view, but from a broad moral perspective, has ended. It was over even before Oz’s death. There was no longer any need for them. The public didn’t need them, and the state is managing without their moral backing.

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The state has no need for a moral position to support it. It prefers generals with dubious moral views to artists who see everything through a moral prism. Intellectuals have lost their influence. The poet Natan Alterman influenced the national leadership of his day, Oz influenced the left’s leadership, and author David Grossman only influences the left.

The first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, surrounded himself with authors and poets, and for our purposes, it makes no difference whether this was real interest or just a pose. Even if it was just a pose, look at how a politician’s pretense of craving culture impressed the public back then.

Today, the public (let’s call it “the nation,” okay?) is no longer impressed. It no longer seeks moral justification for the country’s actions.

The state can kill, expel, discriminate and oppress without giving an accounting to anyone. It doesn’t need intellectuals who will present such an accounting. It has replaced enlightened intellectuals with ignorant rabbis, universal morality with vulgar Judaism and Alterman with Benny Ziffer.

Ziffer the intellectual is more interested in Sara Netanyahu’s beautiful ankles than moral questions facing her husband, and the moral questions facing her husband are more like those confronted by convicted criminals Nochi Dankner and Arye Dery than those confronted by Aristotle and Nietzsche.

Benjamin Netanyahu and his friends are already a lost cause. They see corruption as an integral part of politics. The protests of honest, decent people shouldn’t be aimed at them but at the nation that has forgiven them.

The nation that ignores corruption and forgives the corrupt is now heading into an election. It’s holding an election not to choose a leader, but to confirm the prime minister’s innocence. An election is an air freshener used to dispel the stench. In the nation’s view, it’s an unappealable court verdict, a verdict whose outcome is known in advance – one with no prosecution, defense or summations, and where the voters are the judges.

The prosecutors can prove whatever they prove, the judges can rule however they rule, but even if he confesses, the jury will still ask, so what? So what if you took bribes and committed fraud, so what? For that you should go to jail? A leader has to be honest? What about King David, or Moshe Dayan?

And not only is he innocent, he’s discriminated against, persecuted and attacked. Discriminated against by the media, persecuted by the police and attacked, yes, by Mapai, the Labor Party precursor that ran the country for its first three decades.

So I took things, he’ll say after he wins. Let’s assume it’s true. So what? You don’t fly abroad? You don’t buy new cars? You don’t buy apartments? Things aren’t bad for you, right? But look, you know there’s a price for this.

Do the math yourself, and enough already about the emergency room in Kiryat Shmona. Ask yourselves whether a few pieces of jewelry, cigars or even submarines are worth your vacations, cars and apartments. I’m taking a fair commission from you, he’ll say; it’s a bargain-basement price.

And when they ask him, what about the poor, those who don’t have vacations, cars and apartments? Ah, he’ll say, the poor? You leave them to me. Admit that you don’t really care about them, and you should know that you scare them. Hamas is also frightening, so is Hezbollah, but what scares them most is the thought that you might replace me.

Those who are afraid will bring him victory in the next election. He’ll win even though we don’t need police recommendations to recognize his dishonesty. He’ll win and he won’t stand trial. Not because that’s what should happen, but because he can’t.

You see, he’s simply not built for it. He won’t let it happen. He won’t be photographed carrying a bag in front of Ma’asiyahu Prison. He just won’t. The world can be destroyed, but he won’t be there. No matter what it costs – war, casualties, threats or lies. Anything goes.

And if we complain? Then ask the weeping, deluded nation, where were you until now? If you’ve managed to live for 52 years with the morality of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, you can also live with the morality of the prime minister’s residence. Anyone who can live with the morality of the country can also live with the morality of the prime minister.

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