The state comptroller’s report about the President’s Residence and the prime minister’s homes was released at the time the Israel Conference on Democracy, organized by Haaretz, was taking place in hangar 11 at the Tel Aviv Port.
The report, its findings, the way it was published and the reactions to it reflect the state of democracy in Israel – embarrassing. It’s embarrassing that the prime minister lives the way he does. It’s embarrassing that the state comptroller criticizes the way he does. It’s embarrassing that the media cover it the way they do. A state whose leaders and gatekeepers act in these patterns is a state without dignity, decency and an iota of nobility. A small state.
The Netanyahu affairs we’ve been exposed to this week could have been taken out of his own election campaign video ostensibly mocking the pettiness of his critics: the take-away food episode, the garden furniture fiasco, the bottle rebate affair, the nose drops episode – how low can one get? How petty can one be? How shabby. But behind all these awkward stories stands one character trait of the prime minister’s: miserliness. And more interesting than the financial miserliness is the emotional miserliness.
Looking back at the nine futile years of Netanyahu’s rule, it’s absolutely clear that one of the profound problems marking them is Bibi’s inability to see the other and display generosity. Ultimately, a man who isn’t generous isn’t a leader. A man who doesn’t pay his workers is not committed to his people, either.
The Netanyahu family’s warped lifestyle is not unrelated to Netanyahu’s failure as prime minister.
The state comptroller is in charge of the governmental norms in Israel. Above them all is the norm of equality. But the report published by (ret.) Judge Yosef Shapira is blatantly not egalitarian. It deals with the prime minister’s household in great detail without dealing seriously with the president’s household. It reveals all the Netanyahu family’s expenses, without telling us what the expenses of the Olmert, Sharon, Barak and Peres families were.
Thus, we have no reasonable criteria to judge the goings on. Is the maintenance cost of the villa in Caesarea higher or lower than the maintenance cost of Ariel Sharon’s Sycamore Farm? Is the excessive spending in the President’s Residence higher or lower than that of the prime minister’s residence? There’s no way of telling.
In its present format, the state comptroller’s report crassly violates the equality norm that the comptroller himself is in charge of.
But the comptroller is not alone. Until 2009 many of the major media in Israel supported the French law granting the prime minister immunity from criminal investigation in the course of his term. The common saying was that a prime minister should be allowed to govern without having to deal with trifles. So Ehud Olmert and every other former prime minister fortunate enough to be one of ours were treated with kid gloves. But now there’s been an about־face. Now, let’s throw the book at him. In for a penny, in for a pound.
The media who said the Morris Talansky, Holyland and Lieberman affairs shouldn’t be investigated are now running a crusade about who paid for the prime minister’s nose drops. Instead of criticizing Netanyahu for his diplomatic fiasco, his security debacle and his disastrous approach to social issues, some people are trying to replace him with the aid of sushi, water bottles and an electrician who was or wasn’t employed on Yom Kippur. Enough, already. It’s nauseating. The double standard is jeopardizing the Israeli media’s integrity and independence.
Sad? It’s sad. Squalid? It’s squalid. This election campaign is a struggle for Israel’s soul and future. Netanyahu must be replaced not because of the scandalous way he ran his household accounts, but because of the way he distorted our face and undermined the foundations of our home. Replacing him is essential and must be carried out with dignity, decency and even nobility. We cannot allow this precious state to continue to be so petty and small-minded.