Taking Stock / Just Paritzky

What makes Infrastructures Minister Joseph Paritzky different from all other ministers? Is he the only one to connive with a private investigator? Is he the only one who ceaselessly plotted and machinated, and indulged in political appointments? Is he the only one to scorn ethics? The only one driven to the brink and beyond by his hatred for his party colleagues? Is he the only one to constantly scheme to bring down his cronies?

Most probably not. The main difference between Paritzky and his colleagues in cabinet, at this moment in time, is sheer stupidity and rashness. Only a fool would hold a conversation like that over the phone with a private eye, and not just any private detective, but one apparently working hand-in-hand with the Israel Electric Corporation.

Why did Paritzky fall? Because of that tape with his preposterous, embarrassing phone call with a private eye, trying to set up his party colleague, Avraham Poraz?

Not exactly. Paritzky is falling because he didn't have the time, or competence, to spin the disastrous revelations, which unfolded on live TV. He didn't have a chance to drag it out and practice damage control. Paritzky is going down because he wasn't connected to the right power centers. Paritzky is a goner because most of his Shinui party and cabinet colleagues have no good reason to halt his downfall. On the contrary: Judging by the behavior of his party compatriots, they were only too happy to watch his nosedive.

Most politicians caught in appalling situations like that managed to hem and haw, to dawdle and delay until the furor died down, the caravan moved on, the ship sailed on and everybody forgot the whole thing. Spin on spin, hearings, investigative panels, reports - and it usually worked, too. The public has a short memory. In Israel one scandal follows on the heels of another. Three months from now, nobody will remember if it really happened or was just a bizarre joke.

But here it happened overnight. Paritzky upped and died, politically and publicly.

In the 24 hours from disclosure to devastation, Paritzky failed to find a spin that would save his skin. That may be because his political demise is actually the spin of another story entirely, a much bigger one.

Dear readers, the private detective taped Paritzky two years ago. Yet only last week did the tape reach Channel 1 television. Why last week? Why Channel 1? Coincidence? Did it take two years to type the text?

We suspicious types don't like coincidences. In the last couple of months, Joseph Paritzky had been up to his neck in a tremendous political battle over the Israel Electric Corporation's natural gas deals.

Like everything involving the IEC, billions were at stake. Paritzky had gone to war with the IEC chairman, Eli Landau. The minister opposed buying gas from Egypt and spearheaded Landau's ouster from the IEC board. These very days Paritzky was supposed to be choosing Landau's successor. The prime minister himself was trying to persuade Paritzky to extend Landau's term, but Paritzky had refused.

If somebody wanted to halt Paritzky's machinations to change the leadership at the IEC, if somebody hoped to preserve its old regime, well, the bombshell of the tape did the job.

Remember, that tape didn't exactly derive from Mother Teresa; even though the IEC workers committee denies hiring the private eye, clearly he was working for, or colluding with, somebody at the IEC.

Justice Minister Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, that champion of the rule of law, hurried to demand that Paritzky resign before he's fired (he didn't), and that he be ousted in disgrace from Shinui itself. Goodness, in his righteous zeal, he seems to have forgotten the real story behind the Paritzky tape, how it came to be made in the first place, and why its existence was made public at this time.

That private eye, Yaakov Eshel, had been hired to dig up material that would incriminate Avraham Poraz, then the chairman of the Knesset Economics Committee, and considered an avowed enemy of the IEC workers.

Yes, that's how things work. Simple as that. A certain pesky Knesset member is making trouble, initiating legislation that would impact the IEC? Well, hire a private investigator to dig up dirt! Paritzky is gone and we may never hear from him again, but the IEC workers committee is here to stay.

The IEC workers have proved time and again that they go with the flow. Paritzky apparently didn't have the horse sense to synchronize with them.

But wait a moment. Private eye, tape, nasty stuff, totally weird statements - doesn't that create a chilling feeling of deja vu? Wasn't there some secret tape made public a few months back, regarding a politician rather more senior than Paritzky? Weren't there not only audio tapes, but video ones too?

Oh yes, it was the prime minister on that tape, and Dudi Appel, and the prime minister's son Gilad - and not only did we get every word transcribed, we got stunning pictures, too. But a well-oiled machine kicked in and did its job, culminating in a report fully exonerating the gentlemen courtesy of the attorney general himself.

Why? Nothing criminal had been proved, or at least the attorney general felt there was not enough evidence. And we all know perfectly well that as long as something isn't outright illegal, it might stink to the skies, it might be ugly as sin, it might be rotten as a sardine left three days in the sun, but it's A-OK, it's just fine as long as the skin is thick, and the entourage of friends and advisers is there.

Is it already clear that Paritzky's sins on that tape are illegal? Smelly, corrupt, ugly and mainly pathetic, but no, we don't know yet whether he actually did anything illegal. So why is he history? Because he, as we said, is just Paritzky. And that wasn't enough.