Nice Is Not Enough

The Labor Party will always need an adornment like Isaac Herzog - someone who represents the figure of the sincere counselor from the youth movement, someone with the image of being the nice-guy Israeli, who doesn't think too hard about anything in particular but does his job properly

Ladies and gentlemen, live from Binyanei Ha'uma in Jerusalem - you are watching the Golden Ass Awards ceremony for second-rank politicians who excelled at guarding their asses until their seats were kicked out from under their pants, and they had no alternative but to play it all righteous and resign.

In making its difficult decision between Benjamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer, (Prof.) Avishay Braverman and Isaac (Bougie) Herzog - all of whom, the jury found, were deserving of the gilded tukhes statuette this year - the winner is ... (rustling of the envelope being opened): Bougie Herzog! Yes, we have a winner!

Illustration (Eran Wolkowski)
Eran Wolkowski

Herzog, the welfare minister up until two or three days ago, is receiving the award because there is nothing bad to be said about him. He was, so they say, a sympathetic minister who did a lot for the country's weaker populations without making too much noise about it in his immediate surroundings. Like a sly cat, he refrained from making his "meow" heard every time the need arose for a big meow to be heard. What exactly was his opinion about the expulsion of the migrant workers' children? What precisely did he think about the series of proposals for racist legislation proposed systematically by his colleagues around the government table? The prize is awarded to Bougie in part because he succeeded in keeping his opinions to himself.

Look at him. He is an aristocrat. How many patrician families are there in Israel, after all? His father was president of the state, a man who came to the fore thanks to his wonderful rhetorical skills in English, which made him the "national explainer" during the Six-Day War. Of his nine portions of talent for arousing enthusiasm, the father did not bequeath even a drop to the son.

Did you pay attention to Herzog on Monday when he gave a dry-as-dust farewell speech to his ministry before the television cameras? If indeed welfare is so important to him and if, as he said, a full-time welfare minister is indeed needed in this country, how can he leave so precipitously, from one day to the next? Or perhaps behind Herzog's taciturn restraint hides great sadness? Go figure. Again, this is the problem: You can never tell what he really feels.

Remember, ladies and gentlemen, the Golden Ass Award endows the winner with immunity from expulsion. Bougie and his pals, in their resignation from the government and their return to the bosom of their socialist movement, made a move no less brilliant than Defense Minister Ehud Barak's. In a day or two it will be forgotten that they were ever, in fact, cynical and obsequious rhinoceroses who sat around a government table with a bunch of arch-racists, arch-clericalists and arch-Zionists. Their sin will be expunged and in advance of the next elections they will be depicted as conscientious defenders of their beliefs.

In a short while, too, it will be forgotten that it was Barak who threw them to the dogs, without thinking twice. And they, also without thinking twice, made the following calculation: If they've already given us a smack, let's leverage it and depict it as a voluntary act of returning home, and land in the Labor Party.

The jury has chosen Bougie because - how can we put this? - he is such a sweetie pie. His noble diligence makes him a modern tragic hero, or almost a modern tragic hero. Fuad has a big mouth, a big posterior and a glorious military past, and he will survive. Braverman has his academic side and the glory of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. What does Herzog have apart from the name Daddy gave him? And until what age is it still possible to chalk up your lineage as an achievement?

Do you really want an answer to the last two questions? Well, it's like this: Without the family aura surrounding him, and in fact even with that aura, just between you and me, Bougie looks like a man without qualities. Like in Robert Musil's novel of the same name, people without qualities have an important role in keeping a sinking empire from sinking because they know that if it sinks they will sink along with it, and then heaven help them, because no other empire will want them. People without qualities are, then, the little screws that hold the machine together. And they are eternal by definition.

In Bougie's case, the Labor Party will always need an adornment like this - someone who represents the figure of the sincere counselor from the youth movement, someone with the image of being the nice-guy Israeli, who doesn't think too hard about anything in particular but does his job properly. Who is not an extremist in one direction or another, and who lets the dogs bark and the convoy go by, as the saying goes, in the profound belief that the party empire, though infinitely degenerate, will not sink as long as there are enough people without qualities like him to keep it going.

Let's hear a round of applause for Bougie Herzog! He mounts the stage to accept the award. The artist who sculpted the prize statuette designed it in such a way that when it is grasped in the hands and held up for the audience to see, it seems for a moment as though the Golden Ass is opening its mouth and saying, You can all kiss me, all of you.