Political Animal / Not Oasis, but Mirage

When the uniforms are doffed and the masks of secrecy are lifted, the truth is exposed and the heroes are naked, sometimes. How long will Israel, as opposed to Denmark, be a land flowing with disappointment and sour milk.

In recent months, two studies have shown that the Danes are the happiest people in Europe, perhaps in the entire universe. The researchers had difficulty pinpointing the source of happiness in a country that suffers from long hard winters, and whose citizens smoke and drink a lot. In the end, they came to the conclusion that the Danish happiness lies in low expectations for a better future.

The reason for their happiness is apparently also the reason for our misery. If their expectations are very low, ours are too high, and that's a recipe for disappointment. This column therefore recommends a lowering of our expectations to half-mast.

In recent days we suffered yet another another disappointment. This time it was Minister of Public Security Avi Dichter who disappointed us, thus taking his place in an ongoing chain - almost a dynasty - of false hopes. The letdown in this case is particularly frustrating, since many remember Dichter, during his tenure as head of the Shin Bet security services, as a shining example of success; his serious demeanor reminds others of their counselor in the Scouts or the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, bright-eyed and clear-thinking.

Our problem does not lie in our belated disappointment, but in our prior expectations, which were baseless to begin with. I feel a need to tell Dichter and his ilk: It's not you, it's us; you are actually fine, we're not. We never had any good reason to see in you something that isn't there. Travelers in the desert see a mirage when they are overcome with thirst. The Israeli public is thirsty for leadership worthy of the name, and therefore it regards every newcomer as though he grew in an oasis, when in fact he emerged from the same furrow.

Those who are bitterly disappointed will try hard to find extenuating circumstances: He isn't a politician yet, he doesn't have enough experience, they explain - but these are merely explanations.

Dichter and Dichter look-alikes do not come to the government and the Knesset from the sheepfold. They come from the army, from the police, from the Shin Bet and from the Mossad - all highly political places. And it is not lack of experience from which they suffer, but lack of judgment. It's the same judgment that guided them in their previous positions, only we didn't know, we didn't want to know.

When the uniforms are doffed and the masks of secrecy are lifted, the truth is exposed and the heroes are naked, sometimes. How long will we refuse to be more realistic and happier; how long will Israel, as opposed to Denmark, be a land flowing with disappointment and sour milk; how long will we ask ourselves, after the fact, how it is possible that so-and-so was the chief of staff or his deputy, and so-and-so was the head of the Shin Bet or his second-in-command?

But I've forgotten the main thing. The learned researchers identified an additional source of Danish happiness: There they still recall their historic, surprising victory in the European soccer championships. And in that sphere, at least, we should certainly lower our expectations to the height of the grass in Bloomfield Stadium.

Those worthy of respect

When the binocular lenses are covered and they have forgotten to remove the cataract from the non-naked eyes, it is hard to see the public from a meter away, even the public of bereaved parents. They sit there huddled during the memorial service, the stage is high and far away, and the important people finish and move on to their next stop.

A bereaved father, Yaakov Gottlieb, who lost his son Micha in the helicopter crash of a decade ago, complained last week after the memorial service: "It's inconceivable that the parents are required to stand up when the defense minister and the chief of staff enter the hall." And they told him that that is the regulation, and the regulation would be looked into.

I'm not an expert at regulations, which are usually tainted by denseness of the heart and the brain. After all, standing up is for the purpose of respect, politeness and good manners, as we were commanded: "Thou shalt rise before the old." And what should a person do who doesn't feel much respect for the guests of honor? And what should a bereaved parent do when his heart is full of bitterness, and the rules of etiquette do not suit his turbulent spirit? Should he continue to sit defiantly, and flaunt the fact that he is an exception to the rule?

It is not mothers and fathers, whether bereaved or not, who have to get up for presidents, prime ministers, ministers and other senior officials, but just the opposite: Let the important personages get up for the parents and show them respect for handing over their sons and daughters to the army as a trust. For the army is not always trustworthy, and too often sacrifices these children. More than citizens are obliged to exalt leaders, leaders are obliged to exalt citizens; that's how it should be.

Every one of us has occasionally been caught failing to stand up, and not necessarily on sad occasions, but on happy ones too. Suddenly an announcement is heard from on high, an important person is on the way, and the confused audience is asked to come to its feet. And I don't even have the desire to stand at attention for an anthem, if you'll excuse me. An anthem adds a great deal, but what does the VIP who is now entering the hall add? My admiration is not the business of the announcer, who in the same breath at the microphone requests that the cell phone be turned off. I am the one who decides how much honor and admiration I wish to bestow; how petty of me.

Once a close friend who saw me "rebelling" explained to me that we were not standing up for the individual, but for the institution he represents. I looked at my surroundings, but I didn't notice any institution arriving. Lately, more than ever, I feel that they have forgotten the institution at home, ashamed. When I feel that the person himself is worthy of the institution and respects it, I will respect the person as well. And until then I suggest that standing up be left to everyone's free will, as a spontaneous gesture; we would not want to feel as though we had found ourselves against our will at a television studio, where everyone is welcomed with loud cheers, even criminals.

At this petty opportunity I will add a remark about the well dismembered pictures that are sent to us with the morning newspapers, photos of the election victors. If we wrap salted herring in yesterday's newspapers, these elegant photographs we are supposed to hang on the wall, so they don't go the way of all paper, so that they won't be destroyed by soldiers on their bases, as we heard happened this past week, so will there arise enough contempt and wrath. From this platform I declare that I shall not make for myself any carved idol or any likeness beside the pictures of my grandchildren, which are the only ones I keep in a prominent place. The rest I throw away, and not without pangs of conscience.

On the matter of the pictures, I have a suggestion as well: Let them be kind enough to send us the pretty pictures only when the presidents, prime ministers and chiefs of staff have finished their terms. If we don't hang them first in the village square, then we will hang them on the walls of our homes and offices; I promise.