Israel is embroiled in a new political affair. A ranking member of the Opposition, former Minister Haim Ramon, sat at a restaurant in a hotel along with a ranking member of the Palestinian Authority (“PA”).
A diner sitting at the next table, about two feet away, was astonished to hear the discussion. Ramon allegedly said he is acting on behalf of President Peres and others, and the PA should reject any offer by the current government because his party, Kadima, will give the PA much more once they return to power.
In short, sell one’s country to the enemy that has vowed to achieve a “complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.”
The diner was interviewed on the radio, and sounds credible. As the interview concluded, an avalanche erupted: Within moments, the President’s spokesperson confirmed that the President indeed met Ramon, but contended the President does not rely on former Minister Ramon to relate messages that the President can make himself, if he saw fit, during face to face meetings.
Then very well known lawyers and media consultants started doubting the reliability of the diner and his motives. They tried to impeach the “testimony” based on an Israeli law prohibiting secret eavesdropping to others. We will not get into these legalities (the difference between “overhearing” and deliberate listening and/or recording), but we will touch on the appropriateness of two known and very visible personalities conducting a meeting in a public place.
The main issue that angered many Israelis is the lack of loyalty: Should the Opposition undermine the ongoing efforts of the government and display such outrageous disloyalty to the State of Israel? Apparently, Opposition Leader Livni is not convinced this was an expression of disloyalty, for she has not taken any immediate steps against Ramon.
The fact that the interview (based on the lunch discussion) received so much press coverage in Israel indicates Israelis are astonished to see their own image in a mirror.
“How can such disloyalty be displayed in public? Is there no shame?” many ask. Minister Ramon states he is not engaged in any behind-the-scenes attempts. Unabashed, he has acknowledged expressing the same opinion on various occasions, although according to him, the particular lunch discussion was “taken out of context” “by an unreliable person, probably one working for the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Let us look at what is really happening:
a) What is the role of Opposition? Is it to undermine the efforts of the Government by actively engaging in a parallel course of diplomacy? Where and when are expressions of opposition valid (only when expressed in the Knesset during legislation efforts)?
b) Is there no loyalty to Israel, to the office one holds and to the party one represents? Would the Minister welcome the same efforts if the roles were reversed?
c) An interesting attempt developed at discrediting the witness and the testimony in order to make them disappear rather than focusing on the issue itself.
I recall a discussion with a good friend of mine. It was a long time ago, when the nuclear secrets of Israel were still secret. We were conducting a theoretical discussion about the nuclear threat against Israel, around a lunch table with other diners. One approached me nicely and quietly suggested that such a topic should not be discussed in public.
I must admit I was bemused, for the discussion was nothing but theoretical (else I and my friend – in this order – should have been thrown in jail). However, given that both my friend and I were in uniform, I appreciated the comment and we did change the topic. Appearance at times is more important than substance.
Minister Ramon sat in public, not trying to hide anything. He expressed opinions that are common knowledge – there is a very clear difference between Likud under Netanyahu and Kadima under Livni. This information (of the alleged differences) has apparently even reached the USA, where the President was rumored to attempt to alienate the Israeli public and the international leaders from right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu. This would aid in bringing back Kadima, which is said to be more conducive to the President’s own agenda vis-a-vis a new Palestine.
Minister Ramon, though, knew all too well that his maneuvering would not be missed. Possibly that was the intended purposes of meeting in the first place. Even if he did not intend to have his comments made public, just the appearance that he is a major player capable of affecting political processes, gave him enough confidence to hold this meeting in public. Alas, these are not internal political bickering – it has everything to do with the continued survivability of the Jewish State.
Appearances have weight, and Minister Ramon could have apologized and retracted. He did not. His party leader, Livni, did not come out to say: “Our way is different, but we support the Prime Minister’s efforts.” This would be the day, when political leaders remember there is something greater than themselves, something called personal responsibility, personal example and loyalty to country.
The issue is the fact that there is no loyalty. It starts with individual party member’s disloyalty and it continues with one party doing all it can to harm its opponents. Then concludes with Arab members of the Knesset doing everything to undermine the very fragile existence of the Jewish State.
Everything is permitted nowadays. There is no accountability. No one is held responsible. The most basic modes of behavior are left on a shelf, as theoretical exercises. In politics, from the podium of the Knesset, those who rule the land are only concerned with their own self-importance, what they deem necessary for self-advancement and benefit.
A new course is called for: “Ethics in the Workplace.” Cleanliness. Self-inspection and evaluation. Retrospection is needed. What should the next generation strive for: “more of the same,” or a good, commonsense, example of leadership?
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