Taking Stock / Hard Times for 'Ugly Israel'

Omri Sharon is one of the ugliest progeny of the political and public echelons. He is more frightening than the Labor and Likud party centers.

Once upon a time, they used to say "beautiful Israel." That was a euphemism for people who came from, and were, the salt of the earth, and who esteemed and loved the land and its values. The older Israel got, the more its founders yearned for the days of beautiful Israel, the Israel of yore.

Naturally, not everything was all that lovely in "beautiful Israel," and in fact, some of the "beautiful Israelis" were downright ugly. The yearning for the good old days actually represented the longing of a certain generation, for the era when a certain class ruled the state.

Today "beautiful Israel" is no more. Welcome to "ugly Israel" - cynical, corrupt and mainly shameless, brazen in its refusal to paint its face. Its ugliness and brutishness is right out there, on the table: Power is the only thing that commands respect.

This past week, "ugly Israel" got nine months' hard time in a Tel Aviv court. The timing was awful and the ruling dreadfully belated, after countless years of the ugly face of the nation glaring from every facet of our public life. But we must not underestimate the dimensions of the achievement.

Omri Sharon is one of the ugliest progeny of the political and public echelons. He is more frightening than the Labor and Likud party centers. He is worse than many of the ugly things that happened in Israel's political scene in the last decade.

In the last five years, Omri Sharon became one of the most influential people in Israeli politics. But it was not because of his personal record of activity on behalf of the public, or because of some ideology, whether political or economic, that he tried to introduce to the Knesset. No. The parliamentary activities of young Sharon were roughly nonexistent, his appearances in the plenum a rarity, his few legislative proposals marginal. In the few interviews he gave to the press, he mumbled obscure, embarrassing sentences mainly about the need to protect wild animals.

But in the press, in the government companies, in the cafes of Tel Aviv, his name was on every lip. Political machinations, sweetheart jobs and political appointments. From giant government companies to cities and local government, to religious councils - Omri Sharon was the king. He was the man who closed the deals. He made phone calls, he took care of Shlomo and Yossi while shutting out Shmuel. Don't make him mad, get on his good side.

Omri Sharon derived his power from one and only one source: his father. The prime minister. Not his own professionalism or charisma, not his know-how or deeper understanding of issues, nor even any job he held. His source of power was solely and only the other party's sense that if needed, Sharon, Jr. could operate Sharon, Sr. The prime minister. In most cases, of course, putting the bigger Sharon into action was unnecessary.

Turning the younger Sharon, an overgrown child with zero record of public works or particular talents, into one of the most influential people in the political scene - and into a key factor in public-sector and government appointments - sent a clear message to the public:

1. Everything is political, not substantive. Everything begins with a wink and ends with a nod.

2. Your taxes and state property are toys in the hands of a bunch of rank amateurs that do everything in their power to use that property as though it were their own.

3. Politics, and the public sector, relate zero importance to skill, capability, excellence, integrity or consistency. It's all personal, political, small, ugly.

4. Shame is dead. It's all done right out in the open. No need to hide, wriggle, explain, excuse. All that matters is whether you have the power to hire, fire, arrange, terminate.

The punishment meted out to Sharon, who was found guilty of buying power with money that we still can't trace, to Sharon who fooled the state comptroller, who lied to the law-enforcement authorities, was very mild. But if we remember the pitiful, limp-wristed, feeble way the courts in Israel handled most public servants accused of similar offenses, those nine months to which Sharon was sentenced is an achievement.

Looking at the sentences handed down by the courts, and the rulings by the attorney general, regarding Knesset members, mayors, ministers and even prime ministers - Sharon's sentence is an occasion for celebration for much of the rest of Israel.

It is a joyous occasion for every taxpaying Israeli sick of the cynicism ruling public-sector appointments. It is a joyous occasion for every Israeli who feels his country is being stolen from him. Who feels that a gang of cynics, whose only ideology is to take care of themselves and their friends, has seized the reins.

It is a joyous occasion for every Israeli who feels there is no reward for excellence, knowledge, integrity, industriousness or originality, because it all counts for nothing against ugly little political friendships.

It is a joyous occasion for every Israeli sickened by the shamelessness taking hold of every walk of life and trampling more and more people as it proceeds along.