The Law of the Strong

One could say that Israel's leaders debase us in the world's eyes, but it is enough to watch Abraham Hirchson going to jail to realize that something far deeper than shamelessness has taken over our lives.

Which is the greater embarrassment? The prime minister demeaning himself by meeting with Madonna, or the foreign minister attacking Norway for honoring Knut Hamsun without knowing that he has been translated into Hebrew - many times? One could, of course, say that our leaders debase us in the world's eyes, but it is enough to watch Abraham Hirchson going to jail to realize that something far deeper than shamelessness has taken over our lives.

Shlomo Benizri went to jail accompanied by cries of "He's innocent." Think what you like about his followers, at least they were challenging the judicial system in the name of truth. But the jail sentence against former finance minister Hirchson, for theft, was turned into a victory for Israeli democracy, although Hirchson went to jail accompanied by an oppressive silence.

Silence from his friends and associates. No true friendship, but the Law of the Strong. And no genuine shame: Hirchson belongs to a clique whose environment - at least the immediate one, in Likud and Kadima - knows how corrupt it is.

Who would have the audacity to say that the top echelons of the Likud did not know how the former finance minister was living, and how his sons lived, and how Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert lived? Nonetheless, not a word was heard from that environment about what was going on. They are not accountable to anyone. If only they would at least promise that these three, Sharon, Olmert and Hirchson, were the only ones, and the last ones.

A person is innocent until proven guilty, but politicians have to tell the voters what they think about their contaminated environment. Yet the public has heard nothing.

Only Daniel Friedmann is still defending his good friends, in a voice without shame. He is not saying, "He's innocent." At the root of his conduct lies no demand for truth, only a defense of power.

And thus we approach the true nature of shamelessness: Belief in the right of the strong to dictate the natural order. From this point of view, the indictment of Olmert is a violation of that order, as is a Supreme Court decision annulling an anti-democratic law that the Knesset passed "democratically." That is how Israeli society's rationale functions: The rationale is the leadership, and the ordinary Israeli follows after it, wherever he or she is permitted to do so.

Justice is only a rhetorical means of saying "I have a right," as in "our right to this country." Nothing beyond that, nothing universal.

Shamelessness is talking about Jerusalem, where Arab children suffer racial discrimination, as if it were "united and equal." It's unjust? So what? Who is going to do anything about it? The prime minister "discovers" that there is no air conditioning at the high school in Shfaram? So what? How many Arab schools do have air conditioning? Why should we care? We do what we feel like doing.

But if Friedmann is merely the defense attorney for the rule of force, Ehud Barak is its ideologue. This "moderate element of the leadership," the kibbutzniks' representative in the government, explains in the clipped language of a company commander facing raw recruits: "This is the Middle East, and there is no room here for weaklings."

Out of sheer arrogance, Barak keeps reiterating this kind of racism, with variations. For example, "Judeo-Christian culture's attitude toward truth, compared to Islamic culture's inferior attitude toward truth." This reflection passed without a blink in Israel. And what about "the villa in the heart of the jungle"? That was another brilliant remark of his. Tel Aviv is the villa, of course. The ruins of Gaza are the jungle. There is shamelessness.

Perhaps we are better off when our prime minister just meets with rock stars.