Israel Doesn't Need a President - or Embassies

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Shimon Peres
President Shimon Peres.Credit: AP

Before the sex-offense investigation of Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom moves forward and the detectives start looking into whether he unzipped his trousers, whether she wanted to go to the hotel and why this whole issue is coming up now, a moment before the engines are warmed up for the presidential elections, I have a simple suggestion for our elected officials: Stop the elections.

Introduce a bill abolishing the office of the Israeli president, and move it along quickly. Before the election of President Yitzhak Navon, the writer Yehonatan Gefen wrote (I’m quoting from memory, and I hope my memory is not misleading me): “I don’t want a professor president who sleeps with a test tube; I don’t want a wise president from the right ethnic group ...” (Navon is Sephardi and his last name in Hebrew means “wise.”) And so on and so forth. The ending read: “I want Uri Zohar. I want a president who makes me laugh.”

I think Gefen’s wish came true too much, as wishes often do. Anyone who thought Moshe Katzav, for example, was a funny president, or at least that it was funny to elect him president, now has a deeper understanding of jokes.

In recent years, the institution of the presidency has given us mainly bitter disappointment, with humor pushed aside a bit. But presidents who were less damaging than Katzav (who was convicted of rape after resigning under pressure) also wasted public funds on symbols, birthday parties and empty ceremonies. To put it another way, a large part of what the president does is completely unnecessary, and the other part, which is much smaller, can be done by others.

Since the entire institution, with its staff of workers at the president’s official residence, personal assistants, nice director-general and acclaimed cooks, can be summed up as one big nothing, there’s no need to go into specifics about who would assume which of its tasks. Most of the jobs, parties, trips and other enjoyments would simply evaporate without a trace — and it would be for the better.

What will the workers at the president’s official residence do? They will find jobs. They will start a landscaping company, begin cooking in an orphanage or print real documents about real issues. They will do something useful for the world, instead of wasting money that isn’t there.

And what will the president do? President Shimon Peres will go home (as the old song about the elite Palmach strike force says, “It is no legend, my friends, or passing dream”), and there will be no more president of the State of Israel. The presidency will pass into history, never to leave it, and that will be that.

And as long as we’re talking about non-essential jobs, the time has come to talk about the Foreign Ministry workers’ strike. Many years ago, I worked in an Israeli embassy in a not particularly important country. Even then, well before the establishment of the Internet empire, business was conducted — how shall I put it? In a very, but really, truly, very, laid-back manner.

For example, there was one lady, a local employee, who took great care to translate clippings from the local press into English so staff members could read them. There was one lady who tried to explain to the consul what locals wanted from him, because his command of English was too weak for him to understand. And of course, there were the consul, the economic attache and the two members of his staff, the deputy ambassador and his secretary, the ambassador and his secretary and a plethora of other people whose positions it would be too exhausting to enumerate.

From my own lowly position, I got the impression that they filled up the embassy with their bodies, even getting fairly generous salaries, but that their presence did nothing to promote the relationship between the country where the embassy was located and the State of Israel.

And if we go back to the question of damage, to tell the truth, their actions often did more harm than good. None of this stopped the State of Israel from renting magnificent accommodations for them, buying them luxury cars, guarding them from here to wherever and allowing them to demand, in its name, honor and glory from the local governments.

Since I know I’m letting myself in for a good tarring and feathering by Foreign Ministry officials, I will add that a great deal of water has flowed, even in the Jordan River, since I worked in the embassy; methods of communication have developed quite a bit and the little that used to be done via the embassies can and even should be done via the Internet. So the presence of Foreign Ministry officials in all these places is even less necessary than it was.

The test of results is being waved like a banner everywhere in the Israeli economy. The state of Israel’s international relations definitely does not justify a raise in anyone’s salary. Nor have all the president’s men been of use to anyone for many years. Let all these people go home and start working in real jobs. They could find a great deal of satisfaction.

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