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The Real Corruption

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, February 22, 2018
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, February 22, 2018Credit: Emil salman

The real corruption is that we’ve been led to believe that politics has different rules, that lying is forbidden in life but permitted in politics. That in life it pays to tell the truth, but not in politics. We’ve gotten used to thinking there is no politics without trickery and no politician who tells the truth, that that’s the way of the world.

Politicians are charlatans, the sun rises in the east; politicians are false, some more than others. That’s the norm, that’s how it must be. It’s difficult to believe: We place our fates in the hands of the people we trust the least, and we’re all right with that. That is the greatest corruption.

They were raised on the lies of Israel’s rotten politics. Is there anyone in the media who isn’t aware of the unbearable disparity between what the politicians say to the camera and what they say when the camera is turned off? We’ve learned to live with it. No one stopped them from lying, no one confronted them with their lies. It’s journalism that nods at each of their hollow statements. No one rewards them for being honest, deceit pays.

Bribing a newspaper publisher in exchange for favorable coverage is fraud, but so is saying that we seek peace when everyone knows otherwise. Fraud is promising benefits to the disabled, the opening of the high-speed train to Jerusalem by Passover, the death penalty for terrorists. Fraud is putting on a sad face after a terror attack and declaring that it will be the last, when everyone knows there will be more. It’s saying you wish the wounded a speedy recovery, that the army will respond when the time and the place are right, that your wife is a victim, that Israel is the best. Deceptions large and small, and very little truth. The truth is a non-option.

Promoting this deception has required professionalism, wheeler-dealers, media and strategy consultants, who are always tight-lipped. They heralded the great corruption.

I got to know one of the first of them, brought from America by a Jewish philanthropist, of course. David Sawyer was a good-looking, impressive man who came to help Shimon Peres win the 1981 election. He had chalked up a number of successes in the United States, a sign that he could do the same for Peres.

Sawyer didn’t have a clue about Israel. It’s doubtful that he had ever heard of the country before that, but in a matter of days he had become the expert who would tell Peres what to say. Peres became addicted to him. He believed Sawyer was the only person who didn’t want a thing from him, and in the politics of the late 1970s, that meant a lot.

It was a time of much more serious sexual harassment than today, and a period of cash envelopes, which, granted, went to political parties and not individuals, but no one saw anything improper in it. Among Peres’ associates at the time, there were other top trickery experts — the ever-present Ram Caspi and the now-deceased Eliezer Zurabin, and Peres paid more attention to them than to his own conscience.

Unbelievably, one of Israel’s giants needed an expert from America to tell him what to tell an audience in Petah Tikva. That’s how the fakery began. They told him to blink, that people didn’t believe him because he didn’t blink. They told him to visit the open-air markets, or not to; that he should say hello, that he shouldn’t say hello; that he should mention the occupation, or not; that he should have his picture taken with French President Francois Mitterand, that he shouldn’t have his picture taken with him; that he should appoint former military man Haim Bar-Lev, or that he shouldn’t. Image was everything. What was important was what the consultants said.

A lot of water has flowed through the Knesset toilets since then. The consultants put on heft. The politicians engaged in deceit. Benjamin Netanyahu chalked up a record low, but he will not be the last.

Is it naïve or unrealistic to think that things can be different? That a politician will arise who will simply say what he thinks, everything that he is thinking, and only what he is thinking, regardless of what a consultant says and in particular regardless of what people say about him? There are politicians like that, in the margins of politics, but not in the center of power. It’s in our hands. Maybe for once, we will reward stating the truth and punish deceit.

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