A Long Scar on a Bald Head

It's hard to believe that such a revealing book was written by an active politician. Then again, it is Yossi Sarid.

The only photograph in Yossi Sarid's book is an MRI of his skull, with the tumor visible in the upper part - a large, frightening, tempestuous white splotch without clear borders, like Hurricane Ivan, moving into Florida, threatening ruin and destruction. The author's familiar bald scalp spreads across the cover of the book, which is a shocking blood red. And there, perched along the edge of the cover, in a reduced-scale photo, is the long wall-to-wall scar.

"Zeh Hanituah Sheli" (This Is My Operation), published by Yedioth Ahronoth Books, is the title. A double entendre, for the Hebrew word nituah also means analysis. There is no precedent in Israel for any book like this, written by an active politician. Sarid, who underwent - and recovered from - complex brain surgery, began to write the book 24 hours after the operation, and never stopped, continuing to write for a full month until completing the book. Even though we already know the end - the operation succeeded and the patient lived - the reader ploughs through the book with bated breath, like reading a well-crafted thriller.

Sarid writes exceedingly well. That is nothing new. And this time, it seems, he made a supreme effort to prove to the audience and to himself that the operation did not harm his writing skills or analytical skill. Perhaps, as he says, the opposite proved true: after the doctors removed what had to be removed, his sight became clearer and sharper.

It all started with a minor confusion, Sarid reconstructs. He could not identify a column that he himself had written two hours earlier. His wife, Dorit, noticed that something was off. You've never been confused before, she said. Even when you've made a mistake, you weren't confused.

"That is how Dorit saved my life, for the umpteenth time," Sarid relates. He says that the book is about the "stupidities of death" - whether death results from an ugly tumor in the head or foolish wars, unnecessary accidents, violence, hatred or carelessness. In his book, Sarid skips from a detailed, revealing - at times embarrassing - description of the days and the hours before and after the operation, to personal stories from the Lebanon War and the Yom Kippur War. He hides nothing from the readers: the ailments, the tests, the ruminations, the medications, the nightmares, the conversations with his wife Dorit and his children Yishai, Nadav and Noa, the release form from Ichilov. Even the spiritual will that he left to his family appears, verbatim. Absolute transparence. Like "Project Y." Only much more intelligent.

"I have no problem with revelation," says Sarid. "Not of my personal state and not of the state of the nation." Indeed, Sarid draws the connection between his personal state and the general state of affairs. Sarid wonders, as if to himself, if Meretz' failure in the latest election for Knesset was not somehow connected to his own low state, to his lack of energy. In any event, he does not intend to use it as an excuse. He does not intend to unseat his heirs, he says. So it seems that Yahad leader Yossi Beilin has also profited from Sarid's operation.

Sarid opens his book with the words, "Now I am a happy person, I am even a content person." But the book is not happy, and does not shower contentment on its environment. It is a book of angst. A depressing, melancholy book. Sarid volunteers to bear on his shoulders the sorrows of the world. He describes various occasions when he cried. There are quite a few. He also reprints poems that he wrote over the past year, ever since becoming a simple MK. He wrote 100 poems, most of which will soon be published in a separate book.

On the eve of the operation, he received calls from many well-wishers. Benny Begin, a personal friend and political foe, cautioned him about the operation, and not necessarily about its medical side. "If I were in your place," Begin said to him, "I wouldn't get involved in such a far-reaching step, because the tumor in your brain is the perfect alibi, and as soon as it is removed, you will no longer have such a convincing reason for your mistakes."

Among the callers were Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Shaul Mofaz. People who'd learned firsthand about his sharp, at times venomous, tongue. Sharon, Sarid describes, was "very nice" on the telephone. Charming, even. "Black charm," Sarid calls it. Sarid admits that the phone call from Sharon did something for him, but the next two pages in the book, devoted to Sharon, his son Gilad and the ranch, are far from complimentary to the prime minister. Nevertheless, every so often Sarid's anger is diluted in a personal vein. After calling Sharon a "cynical person," after complaining that Sharon's premiership is harming his (Sarid's) health, he wishes him: "He should be healthy."

Burg on the outside

There is quite a bit of similarity between Sarid and Avraham Burg, whose book ("God Returned - On the Contradictory Identities of the 21st Century") was also published last week, by Yedioth Ahronoth Books. Both are men of the left. Both have engaged in politics for nearly their entire adult lives. Both sustained harsh personal blows in their last terms in office: Burg was beaten in a fight for the leadership of the Labor Party. Sarid was compelled to leave the Meretz chairmanship after the party's failure in the last election. Both are fed up with politics, but Burg acted on it: he has abandoned political life altogether, and launched a career as a businessman. He also spent seven months writing what he describes as an attempt to "rejuvenate the public discourse on the direction of society."

"The book is about the tumult in which the world now finds itself," says Burg, "in the clash between civilizations, between theocracy and democracy, between believers in humanity and believers in God. The title `God Returned' expresses the argument that the great survivor of the 20th century is God. He survived all of the ideologies: Communism, Socialism, Nazism and Capitalism. And today his followers are avenging."

Anyone looking for a political settling of accounts in the book will be disappointed. Burg is in rehab from politics. He has arrived at the conclusion that anyone who wants to change things can do so only from outside politics. "I decided to get in there and pull the wagon out of the political mud in which it was mired. Always, whenever I would write my articles, I would be put into a small room and would be reprimanded. I was always told that the public will not like this. Now when I am on the outside, no one can reprimand me any longer. I write what I want to, and only do what I like to do."

He says that he has completely cut himself off from politics. This from a man for whom politics had been the center of his life. From time to time he gets together with Haim Ramon, that's all. "There are people who only believe in plotting and intrigue," he says. "It's easy to be in politics when I know where it is flowing. I'm not prepared to be in politics only for the sake of politics. Many of our politicians have ceased to operate on the basis of their inner truth. They operate on the basis of the weather vanes of public opinion."

Last week, in an interview on Army Radio with Razi Barkai, he was asked his opinion on the imminent return to politics of Ehud Barak. "I'll hear what the man has to say. If he has a good plan, then welcome aboard," Burg said. This moderation toward the reviled Barak raised rumors that something is being stitched together by the two. Burg denies it. "He knows that there is nothing to talk about with me," he says. "He can only deceive those who want to be deceived."

Favorable or not

Professor Camil Fuchs, head of the department of mathematics at Tel Aviv University and the individual who oversees the public opinion polls conducted on behalf of Haaretz by the Dialogue polling firm, read in this column last week about a poll conducted in Israel by an American research firm. Respondents were asked to express their opinions about a long series of public figures. Fuchs comments that pollsters in the U.S. do not generally ask, "Do you support or oppose," but rather "Are you favorable or unfavorable to X." In his opinion, this is the question that was posed to the respondents in Israel by the American firm, and this, in his estimate, explains the high percentage of support for Shimon Peres (54 percent). Favorableness is more personal, explains Fuchs, and is not necessarily translated into political support. Is there anyone who knows this better than Peres?