Hedonism Is No Sin; Especially Not in Israel

Whether senior politicians like Ehud Olmert or top journalists like Dan Margalit, Israeli notables need a lot more self-discipline.

Yossi Sarid
Yossi Sarid
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Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, March 31, 2009.
Continuation of a corrupt line: Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, March 31, 2009.Credit: AP
Yossi Sarid
Yossi Sarid

“I’ve always known that Ehud Olmert is a hedonist, but hedonism is no sin,” said his best friend, journalist Dan Margalit, who changed his tune and became the former prime minister’s greatest critic. But until then, why investigate sources of funding and gluttony when you’ve hung out together for so many years?

It’s true, you don’t go to prison for hedonism, but it’s the mother of all corruption. If you live large you shouldn’t lead, because leadership requires a degree of modesty. It eschews ostentation.

It’s not that we expect asceticism; leaders aren’t monks. But we demand some self-discipline, without which you cannot lead. The person at the top must always remember the people at the bottom, not all of whom can afford to live it up. To flaunt your wealth in a country with the highest poverty rate in the Western world — that’s definitely a sin. Understand, Dan?

“Hedonism is no sin,” they say, whether at the court of one hedonist or the mansion of another. Certainly there’s a difference between the two; one is guilty and the other is completely innocent, but the “sons of light” and “sons of darkness” dichotomy is too simplistic. The borderline isn’t only the letter of the law, and even a free newspaper published by a patron to promote a politician is a type of bribery.

“Where’s the money?” is an important question, the catchphrase of Finance Minister Yair Yapid when he was still a journalist. But “Where did the money come from?” is more important. We have an idea how much a civil servant earns, how much wealth he’s likely to accumulate in his life, and what he can afford for himself and his family.

Back in the day, we asked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and we didn’t receive an answer. We asked Prime Minister Ehud Barak and we were met by silence.This is a right under the law, but not it’s not an obligation. And now we’re asking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. And not only them; the list is long and implicates many political parties.

Not always must it be the judges who give the answers; we can also ask the blind and mute best friends. Otherwise, how will we know how the decisions that determine our fate are made? How will we know who’s hiding behind the curtain and pulling the strings of our lives?

Only this week the judge wrote about “governance that grew more corrupt and rotten over the years.” He noted how “hundreds of thousands of shekels flowed to public servants and elected officials who covered it up,” as if only he had eyes and ears and we couldn’t see or hear.

Happy is he who believes that the operation was successful and the patient won’t die. Polluted water runs deep, and the excrement in the king’s stable will not be removed by one vigorous ruling. Only a fool will believe that humility has returned and that the swamp and the system have dried up. There’s still a lot of disinfecting to do.

In the past we didn’t know what really motivated Sharon to leave the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim, about which he said: “The fate of Netzarim is the fate of Tel Aviv.” And today we don’t know what's driving Netanyahu to gamble on our welfare and our security in a casino, and whose bidding he’s doing.

And how can we know who’s whispering to Lieberman when he toadies to Vladimir Putin, and what they hint to him there? How can we know who’s extorting others like Al Capone and who’s cutting coupons? And why parents and children are deported to their deaths in order to import new workers in their place? Who profits when the entrance to Israel is a revolving door?

Maybe our sages weren’t always so wise, but neither were they fools; “Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Samuel: Why didn’t the House of Saul retain the kingship? Because there were no blemishes in it.” From here we learn that the Kingdom of Bibi will continue. Enjoying the good life is permitted, for now. After all, it’s no sin.

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