Middle East

The Israeli Elections and the Corruption Allegations Facing Ariel Sharon

Israel: As If Nothing Had Happened

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his Jerusalem office, Jan. 13, 2003 (Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP).

It’s too soon to say, but the way things are looking now, even the latest scandals linked to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s family won’t affect the election results. The past will repeat itself. Corruption, if indeed there was any, doesn’t impress anyone anymore. “So what,” Sharon’s supporters will say. “So he took a loan to cover a previous loan, and then a third to cover the second. Who doesn’t do that?”

We are a nation of improvisers. Everyone plays the acceptable game of hiding the truth until there is no choice but to expose it. And if this is the case, why would we want our leader to act any differently? On the contrary, let him be like us. That is the Israeli way, and there is no expectation that our leadership will be clean of any wrongdoing. We already know that this type of situation is unacceptable; why should we expect from the prime minister’s family what we don’t demand of ourselves? Why are you so hypocritical?

Well, Sharon’s many supporters will say, This is not hypocrisy. But it is political manipulation. The important issue is not only what Sharon did, but what the motive the Ministry of Justice had in investigating the matter at this time. Specifically, what was the media’s motive in exposing the story now? Don’t worry, Sharon, we’re with you through thick and thin. Anyway, you’re fighting corruption with all your might. We remember how you fired Deputy [Infrastructure] Minister Naomi Blumenthal in a matter of five minutes. Blumenthal? Remind me exactly what we’re talking about? We already forgot. Oh, she’s suspected of covering hotel expenses for fellow Likud members who, in exchange, promised her their votes in the primaries. Forget about it, that’s small change.

These days are especially difficult because it suddenly became clear that we’ve instantaneously lost any criteria for well-measured behavior. We don’t have the compass to guide us to know what’s right and what’s wrong, what is allowed and what isn’t. We are floating in moral and ethical chaos and there is no one to lead us. Gradually, all norms of behavior crumble and what looked to be completely unacceptable turns into just another thing that is senseless. Power and hegemony are the ultimate targets. Achieving them justifies destroying any values on the way.

That is the greatest blame that confronts the prime minister. Even if we find out that all the loans were legal—that the mysterious Cyril Kern gave US$1.5 million as an act of friendship—the question remains: Why didn’t he report having done so? And still, the stench steaming from the behavior of the most prestigious public figure in the country, the man who preferred not to sell one of his many assets to cover his own debt, will be smelled from miles away. There will be those who say that it was purely an economic calculation, one which says that it’s better to take a loan than sell property, but no such thing [as a purely economic calculation] exists when it concerns the prime minister. And there wasn’t such a case until today. This is the new rule: From this moment on, everyone takes care of his or her own business; all you need is a good lawyer, and you’re set.

Omri and Gilad Sharon are sons dedicated to their father. Both are deeply connected to Israel. They are nice, polite, and friendly and thus don’t provoke any antagonism. Their appearance is innocent, especially that of Omri, which doesn’t reveal his thirst for power and his complete lack of correct behavior. Is this Omri with his shy smile and awkward mannerisms, who pays a visit to honest people who have no citizenship or right to vote, in order to assure their support for his father in the party’s central committee? Is it conceivable that the modest Omri would spend time in Juarish, one of the most problematic places in the country, in order to register 57 potential voters? And what business has Gilad with [Israeli businessman] David Appel, a man who quite frequently visits the police station [in the course of bribery and fraud investigations]? And why was he given a monthly consultancy fee of US$20,000 in the “Greek island” matter? [On Jan. 3, Tel Aviv’s centrist Yediot Aharanot claimed Appel had paid Gilad US$3 million in 1999, and in exchange, Sharon, then foreign minister, had interceded with Greek authorities to help Appel set up a resort on a deserted Greek island—WPR.] Did it ever, even for a moment, occur to him that as the son of the prime minister, he is barred from making such agreements?

And the saddest of all is that in a few months, these allegations will seem to us like child’s play, because the limits of acceptable behavior will have changed again. What seems horribly serious today will look completely trivial tomorrow. Sharon must consider this carefully as he continues his life and his run for prime minister as if nothing’s happened.

This column originally appeared in Hebrew at http://www.maariv.co.il. Reprinted with permission.