They've Lost Their Heads

All the recent political scandals in Israel have one feature in common: predation. Not just in the means of investigation and punishment, but also in the overall conduct of the accused with respect to the investigations, which sometimes looked no less wayward than the deeds themselves.

Like those elderly women who knitted in Paris during the French Revolution, we have already become accustomed to the sight of our elected officials and leaders being conducted to the guillotine, one after the other. Like those women, for us this is a kind of daily amusement, if not a national entertainment: scrutinizing the expressions of those about to be decapitated as they walk with shaking knees toward the inquiry commission or the court, accompanying them with boos, descrying the glitter of a tear, pointing out a perspiring brow, discerning an expression of pain or amusing ourselves with an outburst of anger a moment before - plop! Another head tumbles into the basket.

In the semifinals of the Winograd Commission, after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's testimony yesterday, and after the latest dramatic chords in the affairs of former minister Haim Ramon and President Moshe Katsav, it appears that we are now facing a brief hiatus, like at the end of a reality show's season. But don't worry: They will return in the spring. A sequel will come, accompanied by public expectations of the beheadings of Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

One can be proud or bewildered, but it is hard to ignore the intensity of the sharpness, wrath and pathos that have recently accompanied some of the legal system's decisions. And that is even without mentioning the surprisingly harsh sentences that have thrown some of our haughtiest hacks from positions of arrogance and power straight into prison. We should not overlook the fact that these punishments are decreed in a public atmosphere of anger, scorn and unprecedented antagonism toward the political system, its hacks and anyone and anything that appears at the front of the stage.

It is also hard to ignore the simultaneity of the public's blown fuses and the righteous wrath and might that have suddenly descended upon the investigators, legal advisors and judges. The timing, too, is interesting: All of them woke up and shook themselves out like lions immediately after Ariel Sharon sank into coma.

For six years, coma was in fact the norm among the public, the media and the legal advisors: With a sweet, foolish smile, we dismissed all the rumors (mere rumors?) of corruption, misdeeds, winks, white lies and strange connections that hovered around Sharon and his court like midges in the cow barn. Even when there were terror attacks every day, even when poverty spread like a plague and even when the corruption in the Likud Central Committee broke records, a strange spirit of forgiveness prevailed everywhere.

The fact that Sharon was wrapped in cotton wool derived not only from a political reason (namely, the disengagement) but also from psychological reasons: from the feeling that after many years of chaos, there was a stable, authoritative leadership. And if so, why rock the boat and probe its cracks? And indeed, for a while what Sharon often called "Quiet! Quiet!" prevailed. Investigators who nevertheless found themselves in his bureau and did not get answers emerged enchanted, the media rejoiced in the likable grandpa, and the attorney general agreeably closed case after case.

The quiet was disturbed only for a moment, with the angry and astonishingly severe verdict against then MK Naomi Blumenthal. This was a kind of trailer for the coming attractions. It is symbolic, and perhaps not coincidental, that Sharon shut his eyes precisely when a similarly severe punishment (a prison sentence!) was also imposed on his son Omri. At that moment, the age of forgiveness ended. Since then, the political and legal systems have not known a single day of quiet. We have gone from one extreme to the other, as though the disappearance of a father figure has caused us to kick out angrily in every direction, no longer recognizing anyone's authority or dignity.

On the surface, apart from their seniority, the many public figures who recently strode to their fates have nothing in common: What connection is there between election bribery, illegal party funding, failure in a war, mistaken operational decisions and indecent acts and rape? On the surface, it is every man and his own blunders, sins or stupidities. Nonetheless, all these affairs have one feature in common: predation. Not just in the means of investigation and punishment, but also in the overall conduct of the accused with respect to the investigations, which sometimes looked no less wayward than the deeds themselves.

All of them manifested the same kind of use of force - "going crazy" without any inner sense of limits or restraint, without moderation, without refinement, without apology. This kind of brutality has become a kind of "lovable" national temperament ("We are a Levantine country," as Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh said in justification of Ramon, and of all of us), a predatory temperament that allows elected officials with swollen egos to put their paws on someone who does not want it, just because she is there and they are strong, and also to vilify her by firing all the cannons and exploiting every gram of power and influence. Perhaps it is also no coincidence that the very same "invasive, hurtful and humiliating act" (as the judges defined what Ramon did) was committed almost simultaneously with the spontaneous, wounded-ego-driven and thoughtless invasion of Lebanon. It cannot be helped; that is how things are in the Levant.