Of Bogs and Burned Wings

As is typical of swans, Uzi Arad - a professor and now former national security adviser to the prime minister - would periodically stick his neck into the cool water, before lifting it up and stretching it out.

In the stinking, polluted black swamp of Israeli politics, a black swan named Uzi Arad has been adrift for some time. As is typical of swans, Arad - a professor and now former national security adviser to the prime minister - would periodically stick his neck into the cool water, before lifting it up and stretching it out. Swans are creatures that photograph splendidly on tourist postcards. Often one is brought in specially so that inhabitants of the smelly bog can fantasize about how others live, for example, in Europe or North America, as opposed to the harsh Levantine waters. Strangely, it took this particular intelligent swan a long time to grasp that he is only a fantasy.

Actually, Arad is not a mere fantasy; he is a fantasy within our collective fantasy. There is no illusion more soothing than imagining that there is a distinction between the intellectual purity of the ivory tower, and the mudslinging action of politics. But anyone who has some knowledge of the inner workings of Israel's academic world knows that its relentless intrigues and brutal power plays make short shrift of whatever happens in the government.

Uzi Arad and Benjamin Netanyahu
Eran Wolkowski

The myth of the straight shooter from academia who is unable to stand up to the rough-and-tumble vicissitudes of politics, was mentioned in the past in connection with Yigal Yadin and Amnon Rubinstein. It is also associated with Avishai Braverman, minister of minority affairs until a month ago.

Academics will always function as decorations which adorn the soiled political world, and they are aware of this reputation. People with scholarly backgrounds persuade themselves that they are idealists, whereas what really drives them is hubris, as the Greek philosophers told us. These people say privately: "Am I going to finish my life as a professor, and not leave my mark on history?!? No, I'll spread my wings, and let them take me to the sun!"

In Uzi Arad's case, the sun was Benjamin Netanyahu.

Such hubris, incidentally, is not different from that of senior Israel Defense Forces officers who believe that since they knew how to march legions of soldiers into battle, they can do the same with civilians after they are discharged from service. This calculation has brought several major catastrophes to Israeli politics; the one called Ehud Barak is the most conspicuous example.

The belief in the abilities of the military man to function in the political arena is no different than the faith that Shas members have in Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's talent for politics: All such believers are blind to the same degree - and this includes those who believe in the ability of a professor of public policy to actually make policy, and academicians who believe that government is the same thing as a university seminar. Faced with such believers, the gods rise up and take vengeance. The sun burns the wings; the mortals fall.

There is another collective fantasy, too: the illusion of the adviser - the expert who supposedly knows more than we do. How often have we fallen, not to arise again, because of advice given by such experts? Indeed, there have been public relations advisers who failed to even marginally improve the popularity of their politico-clients. And there have been investment portfolio advisers who were unable to forecast downswings in the stock market. And what about the security advisers who finish their terms, leaving us wondering whether our national security is in any measure better than it would be if these people weren't around?

Gogol rolled over with laughter, when writing about the czar's sagacious advisers. In one of his stories, an adviser lost his nose; in another, an overcoat was lost. In Gogol's famous novel, the only thing the adviser could do was roam about collecting dead souls.

Here's a riddle. To which of the three categories does angry-faced Arad belong: the adviser who was punched on the nose by Avigdor Lieberman (when the foreign minister refused to appoint Arad ambassador in London ); the one whose overcoat was taken off by Netanyahu; or the one over whom the souls of us poor peasants have ached for years, as a result of the prime minister's lack of activity vis-a-vis peace policy - that same adviser who received a salary to gamble with our national security?

Uzi Arad, it bears mention, contributed much to the state and society, and it is wrong to ridicule him. I assume that were he to employ a public relations strategist, that person would advise Arad to downplay the phase of his career involving his service as Netanyahu's adviser. But if he doesn't employ such a person, and turns instead to some old woman who reads your fortune in coffee dregs, she will take a glance at the dirt that remains stuck to Arad, and mutter something that one does not need to be a professor to grasp: Whoever goes to sleep with dogs should not be surprised to find one day that he has been thrown to the dogs.