Liberman and the Beauty of Life

He didn't serve in the 101 and didn't grow up in the ranks of Mapai. He didn't eat chocolate sandwiches in gan and only moved to Israel at age 20. But Avigdor Liberman understands us only too well.

Right at the start of the Tuesday press conference that the minister of Strategic Affairs and chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party had called to defend his choice for Tourism minister, he repositioned the entire event: "I don't know who of the reporters here counted how many Qassam rockets fell on southern Israel yesterday or today," Liberman said. "We are a country without a commander. At this time, negotiations are being held over Iran. At this time, arms are being smuggled from Syria to southern Lebanon. The press should also keep things in proportion. Our soldiers are still being held in captivity. So with all due respect, including to our love of gossip, things must be kept in proportion."

Well said, Mr Liberman. That is exactly how to manage things here. Sprinkle a few missiles, add a pinch of Iran, garnish with arms smuggling and finish by whisking in captive soldiers, and we, like trained puppies, will wag our tails and lick from the dish served by the latest general on the podium.

True, you aren't a general. You didn't cross the Suez, you didn't bomb the enemy. But you recently arranged the ridiculous title of Minister of Strategic Affairs for yourself. That is good enough for us: you're entitled to distract us with security-related smoke screens now.

Indeed, while we're on the subject, as long as rockets continue to pepper southern Israel and our soldiers remain missing, it is unthinkable to demand explanations for tough questions such as how many of our ministers are corrupt, how many are liars, how many are transferring stat assets to their rich friends, where our tax money is going, and the worst of all - is it true that we may be denied proper pensions and healthcare in our old age because government officials have stolen the money, or simply because the management public office is hopelessly bankrupt?

Liberman didn't invent the method. He just gave us a lesson in how to pull our strings. Theft, corruption, rot, sweetheart jobs, unworthy appointments, fraud, you name it - you can wriggle out of anything under the security smokescreen. Toss a couple of Qassams into the air, wave a captive soldier, lower your tone to a conspiratorial whisper and say something (anything) about Iran and it's done. Nobody will hassle you with inconvenient questions.

Staying in proportion

To Liberman's credit, it must be admitted that the intensive attention the media devoted to that petty liar he tried to promote to Tourism Minister was out of proportion. The story about Esterina really is nonsense compared with the massive reeking corruption festering underneath the surface. And we have to admit that the media has been pretty feeble.

Five years have passed since we learned that Mr Liberman had business or political connections with Austrian casino king Martin Schlaff, who was involved in the Jericho casino. Years have passed since the media reported that Liberman receives millions from an Austrian bank for providing advice on foreign currency.

It has been ages since the media wrote that Liberman received collateral for a million-dollar loan from an unnamed Austrian, to finance his political activities, yet we never did learn a) who lent him the money b) what expertise Liberman has in banking or foreign currency to warrant a payoff like that c) what exactly is the nature of his connections in Austria.

How low have we fallen

How low have we fallen, moan the media, the pundits and some Knesset members as well. Suddenly the stench of rot is everywhere, they wail. We can't remember the last time the cries against corruption and mourning for our ethics rang so loud.

Naturally, it's all rot. Corruption has not worsened. All that's happened is that systemic evil that had been there all along is being uncovered like never before.

Quite a few of the people tearing out their hair on TV about the corruption hadn't really cared much before. They stayed mum throughout the 1990s and early 2000s as their friends and colleagues, in political and business, plundered the state, closing deals with a nudge, finalizing appointments and tenders with a wink, stealing billions upon billions of shekels straight out, at the expense of everybody else.

No, corruption has not worsened, and the methods are disgustingly simple. And our leaders, from the prime ministers to their consultants and ministers and their friends and the generals and the Knesset members and the machers and the lawyers, and believe it or not, some members of the media too have all been dipping their paws into the pork barrel.

The only thing that changed is that in the last year, for all sorts of reasons, the filth started to rise to the surface, and the public, which can usually be befuddled in no time with a handy smoke screen, is showing more interest than before.

Last week Channel 10 commentator Raviv Drucker exposed a document, revealing a whole industry of jobs for the boys at Ehud Olmert's office, back when he was minister of Industry and Trade.

Would anybody be surprised if the document proved to be true, down to the last dot over an i? No; we all know what the standards are in the public sector. It is just that nobody much cared before.

If we want real change in Israel's government culture and in our norms, we must start changing our tone. Listen carefully: These are better times than Israel has ever known before. These are times of glory  for the honest, for the officials who walk the straight and narrow, for taxpayers, because we are finally exposing the pockets of infection in our environment, and are finally taking them seriously. We are finally seeing through the clouds of smoke frantically being whipped up by the people who hope to distract us while they steal our future.