Pen Pushers and Combat Soldiers

In Israel, it is rare to see politicians becoming more professional as they gradually make their way up that ladder to the top.

The pendulum of political and public life is swinging nowadays between two Hanoch Levinesque poles: "The Little Bird in My Pants" (one of his songs) and "You, Me and the Next War" (a cabaret skit he wrote). What is in the middle? Almost nothing.

In Israel July and August traditionally oscillate between the "cucumber season" (an Israeli sports term for "off-season") and a so-called "electronic summer" (with abundant television coverage). However, it is doubtful whether we have ever experienced such polarization: At one end, an obsessive, daily fascination (going into the minutest details) with murky, sordid affairs, mostly of a sexual or criminal nature - material that was once the exclusive province of an erotic-humorous magazine like Gamad or the anti-establishment Ha'olam Hazeh. On the other, there's an an equally obsessive fascination with the question of the likelihood of a "summer war" and with that possibility's ramifications - a fascination so obsessive it borders on wishful thinking.

Between these two poles there is almost no elbow room for the kind of politics that is the bread and butter of public life anywhere on earth - namely, constant activities intended to maintain, if not upgrade, the essential infrastructures for political leaders for whom public activities are their lifeblood, mission and profession, as well as the basis for their climb up the political ladder and the source of their material rewards.

Yet, in Israel, it is rare to see politicians becoming more professional as they gradually make their way up that ladder to the top. The dichotomy between the criminal and military poles also dictates the nature of political careerism in Israel: Politicians are expelled from public life because of some embarrassing scandal (Moshe Katsav, Haim Ramon) and then reenter because another war is anticipated (Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ramon).

Since, generally, this is the same small group, it is not surprising that the question of reward and punishment in politics sometimes arises, especially because the powerful in Israel are rewarded so munificently and automatically from the public coffers. A striking example of this phenomenon is the Katsav affair, a classic illustration of a slave who becomes king. Not only did he sin in his previous office (as president), where he was rewarded up to his earlobes and advanced well beyond his talents; now there's even a search underway for a "140-square-meter bureau (sorry, anything smaller is unthinkable) in a luxury office tower" so he can continue his escapades and perhaps even consider returning to politics.

Against the background of this systemic breakdown and these confused values - where reward and punishment seem interchangeable and where they are usually given in inverse proportion to the politician's activities, achievements and failures - perhaps another, much more just reward system should be considered. After all, all politicians are not made of the same stuff. Like soldiers, politicians can be divided into two categories to determine the nature of their rewards: jobniks (non-combatant soldiers) and combat soldiers. (There is one difference: In the army, there are objective constraints, such as health, etc., while, in politics, everything depends on the individual's values and degree of courage.)

Jobniks are politicians driven solely by the desire to land and keep a good job: They always seek useless, safe, but lucrative, positions, such as "president of the State of Israel," "speaker of the House," or "chairman of the Jewish Agency." They need show no personal courage nor do they need to provide benefit to anyone or anything; all they have to do is demonstrate an ability for charming, consensual prancing. Needless to say, their negligible contribution to the country is generally inversely proportional to the degree of their obsessive concern for their conditions of employment and retirement: the office, jeep, and sumptuous pension.

In contrast, combat soldiers enter politics to change things beside their material surroundings, to navigate a new course, to sacrifice themselves for what they believe is the good of the country, as they take immense risks, including even life-threatening ones, and they are prepared to fail in the effort.

Is it sensible that the Katsavs and Avraham Burgs be rewarded in the same manner as the Sharons and Yitzhak Rabins? No, the courageous person who takes risks should be rewarded appropriately, while the jobniks who devote their lives primarily to checking out their salary benefits and secretaries should not be given a guard of honor when they step down. Instead, they should have to pass between two rows of people holding pitchforks and cudgels. If they ask "why?" we should give the same answer as the father in the joke who seems to arbitrarily punish his son: "Use your head. There certainly must be a good reason for this."