Taking Stock / Eli Landau Doesn't Get It

The prime minister is certainly blessed with plenty of friends - beyond the ones in Kfar Malal, that is.

One of them, one Eli Landau, hastened to Sharon's aid this weekend and penned an article for Ma'ariv called "The friends of Elyakim," namely Rubinstein, Israel's attorney general.

In his piece, Landau explained why the prime minister's intervention to wrest more compensation for his Kfar Malal neighbors, beyond what the Public Works Authority meant to give them, was not only proper, but obligatory.

The crux of the article is the story of a request Landau got, when serving as mayor of Herzliya, from Rubinstein, who asked the mayor to help his friends who were operating a carpentry workshop without a license.

Landau uses the story of Rubinstein and the carpenters as a parable proving that Sharon's actions were perfectly proper. Everybody does it, even the attorney general himself.

Landau's article is a crazy quilt of hypocrisy, demagoguery and sanctimoniousness. It is not worthy of attention, but does pose another opportunity to showcase the perfectly improper norm of "helping out friends" and cronies of the people in power, as described by Landau, today the chairman of the Israel Electric Corporation, no less.

So first of all, when Rubinstein asked for Landau's help, he was not Israel's attorney general. Landau's article does not say when Rubinstein wrote that letter, but we may assume neither gentleman was subordinate to the other. Meaning, Landau could have refused to act, if he deemed the request improper.

What a guy

The case of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the director-general of the Transportation Ministry is entirely different. The director-general is a political appointment who knows well what a phone call from the distinguished prime minister himself means. He also knows the price of failing to comply with the persons marked out as friends of the throne. Friends so close, in fact, that the premier chooses to phone and intervene over their lousy dunam and a quarter.

At the time, Landau wrote, when he received the letter, he "praised Mr. Rubinstein for his show of humanity and warm-heartedness."

There you have it. That glowing description shows the worm wriggling at the core in all its glory. Public officials intervening for friends are "humane" and "warm-hearted," Landau would have it, which does not apply to public officials intervening for the downtrodden, disabled, dispossessed and the sundry other unfortunates trampled by the government. No, their lot is to go through the usual channels because they have no connections on high. It is not their luck to live next door or down the street from Eli or Arik.

Landau writes: "I'd have archived the story in my heart if not for the affair arising of the prime minister assisting a couple of close friends." Why "archive" (read, forget) anything, Landau? Is it because you secretly do understand that abusing power to help friends is wrong? Why did you publish the story now if you didn't think it did, in fact, portray a sin?

That phrase "assisting a couple of close friends" is especially amusing. It sounds akin to serving water to soldiers wounded on the battlefield or administering medicines to the ill. But what was served here, and to whom? The Melamud brothers were going to get $650,000 cash for their 1.25 dunams, just over a quarter of an acre of farmland, due to be expropriated for the construction of a road. They wanted $110,000 more. That is the whole story.

"What unforgivable sin did (the Melamud brothers) commit by taking the opportunity to tell their tale of woe to their friend, the prime minister?" Landau asks.

Don't you get it, Landau? Do you really not get it? Or is that just some more demagoguery designed to blur the boundaries?

Of course the Melamuds committed no sin, because they are not public officials, elected or otherwise. They have no power over lands, money or property belonging to the general public. The problem is with your friend, Arik! And what woe exactly are you talking about, Landau? Were they asking for a kidney donation? Or were they asking for another $110,000?

"I fail to understand. Have we descended to the level of Sodom and Gomorrah? Can a stressed citizen whose rights have been expropriated by the government, sometimes with hard-hearted arbitrariness, not seek succor?" Landau laments.

Not only may a citizen seek succor, he is welcome to do so, but the prime minister may not intervene, Eli. There are hundreds of thousands of citizens among Israel's 6.7 million people whose rights are derogated by the government day in and day out, sometimes with hard-hearted arbitrariness. Their pleas for succor are rejected if only because there are so many that they cannot all be handled. The prime minister doesn't make phone calls for them, or convene meetings with the top brass of the relevant institutions to discuss their case.

"That is what the prime minister did, but given the present hornet's nest atmosphere in Israel..." Landau keens.

Hornet's nest? Based on this affair of the Melamud siblings and the various other corruption scandals ceaselessly making the headlines, we believe the prevailing atmosphere to be something else entirely. Friend helps friend, the strong take care of their own, the politicians help the rich and the rich help the politicians, and even when they get caught red-handed, nobody cares. The papers report, the land is rezoned, the tenders get tailored, compensation gets paid and the parade of corruption marches on, completely unmoved by the swirling ink. The atmosphere is one of miasmic apathy.

They're not worthy

"This people (of Israel) cannot be led. This people chews up its leaders," Landau complains about the difficulties he and his friends encounter when trying to "lead." That is evidently what a character like Landau feels, a man who fed off the table of government all his adult life but who failed to be re-elected as mayor of Herzliya, so was appointed by his good friends to the plush job of chairing the power monopoly.

And here we'd thought it was hard to be a taxpayer in Israel, a retiree living on pension, a single parent or just any old Tom, Dick or Yossi without contacts in high government. How silly of us. We'd thought the spreading poverty, the diminishing standard of living, the creeping unemployment and contracting real wage were savaging the weak. But apparently we were merely babbling out of ignorance. It turns out that even in that rarified bubble of wealth and government, life is terribly hard, because of that predatory people.

"David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the nation, was crowned by his party members with a humiliating title, and sent to Sde Boker," Landau writes. But while he dips into history, Landau didn't learn its lesson.

Ben-Gurion chose to end his public career at the desert oasis of Sde Boker, while today's elected officials, Eli's friends, think they should be ending their public careers with millions in their bank account, or the accounts of their children and friends. And they'd much rather retire to a Kfar Shmaryahu mansion graced with a swimming pool than to a dusty oasis graced with pond scum.