How ironic that the one peeve which impelled Labor to foment a coalition crisis early this week had nothing to do with the government’s chronic ineptitude – not with its mismanaged war or with the corruption endemic in its ranks. What finally got Ehud Barak’s goat was the fact that his man didn’t get control of the clout-laden Knesset Finance Committee.
Indeed Ehud Olmert and his Kadima coterie of fair-weather collaborators would have long been out of office had Barak not feared Bibi Netanyahu more than he felt obliged to live up to any of his bombastically proclaimed undertakings.
Barak only promised to leave the government when it became apparent during Labor’s primary that this is the vox populi. In a skillfully stage-managed nationally televised extravaganza on Shefayim’s lawns, Barak intoned his intention to quit the coalition as soon as the Winograd Committee had its say. He didn’t.
HIS ENSUING excuses were too convoluted to condense here. The bottom line was that Barak proved yet again the contention of H.L. Mencken – one of American journalism’s most legendary lampooners of hypocrisy and superciliousness – that “no one in this world ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of plain people.”
Next, after the Talansky affair’s bombshell, Barak personally scuttled early elections by contriving a “compromise” for a primary in Kadima. Barak was unfazed by the utter absence of any precedent anywhere for the leader of one party meddling in the internal processes of a supposedly rival party. So much for Barak’s sanctimonious oratory about keeping promises and upholding principles.
If we didn’t know better – Mencken died in 1956, two weeks before Barak’s 14th birthday – it’d be tempting to conjecture that Mencken had our own ex-premier and current defense minister in mind when asserting that “if a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he’d promise them missionaries for dinner.”
Barak may be accused of all sorts of egregious blunders, but never did he fail to promise voters anything whatsoever on the eve of polling day. In 1998, then-leader of the opposition Barak, gearing up for the upcoming electoral race, dramatically strode into the Knesset speaker’s office – flanked by TV crews and four about-to-be-drafted 12th-graders – and submitted a haredi conscription bill. It was an astute, well-timed and politically riskless PR ploy. Barak cunningly served the proverbial missionaries to the cannibal electorate already a decade ago, thereby earning popularity points aplenty and votes galore.
Having ascended to the premiership, however, Barak didn’t want the legislation, which he had sponsored with such fanfare, adopted under his watch. Instead he did the opposite and actually proceeded to legitimize the very exemptions he so zealously condemned while running for premier. “The urge to save humanity,” as Mencken sagaciously observed, “is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”
That being the case, it was only natural that PM Barak conveniently forgot the old woman in the Nahariya hospital corridor after he vowed with great pomposity and self-righteousness to improve her lot. He likewise succeeded to overlook his pledges to create 300,000 new jobs, provide tuition-free higher education, appoint three women ministers, grace us with an incorruptible administration and abolish crass political horse-trading and kowtowing to rabbis.
Given to grandstanding and self-aggrandizement, he also declared secular and socio-cultural revolutions and sent the needy to their neighbors’ fridges. He apologized to Sephardi Israelis for sins he unilaterally ascribed to his deceased Labor predecessors. He hyperactively reinforced Mencken’s determination that “votes are collared under democracy, not by talking sense but by talking nonsense.”
The law’s self-acclaimed guardian expanded his cabinet’s size in cheeky contravention of unambiguous Basic Law stipulations. He sought to tamper with a slew of other statutes in order to render himself the nation’s effective media czar.
THE STATE comptroller then uncovered evidence showing that Barak’s love for legal loopholes and penchant for playing fast and loose with anything from ethics to the national legacy predated his 1999 electoral victory. The heaviest-ever fine for a campaign scam was slapped on Labor (NIS 13.8 million) for infractions the comptroller called “unprecedented” and “the most brazen ever.” Illicit funds were funneled into Barak’s campaign coffers via dozens of bogus, ostensibly charitable NGOs. He failed to cooperate with a (in his case) lethargic and reluctant police and was allowed to get away with deceit.
Barak kept only one of his numerous campaign commitments – he withdrew Israeli troops from Lebanon but without agreement, in a rush retreat under the cover of darkness, leaving behind equipment and documents, humiliating the IDF, incurably crippling Israeli deterrence, setting the stage for the Second Lebanon War, encouraging defeatist elements in Israeli society and spurring Yasser Arafat to settle for nothing less than Israeli capitulation.
Thereafter he sought to appease Arafat by offering him everything, including the Temple Mount (save for subterranean Israeli sovereignty), thereby lighting the fuse of the second intifada and supplying Olmert with blueprints for a second disengagement.
Just before he lost the premiership, Barak still attempted to curry favor with Arab voters by setting up a judicial inquiry commission into their October 2000 riots. It was yet another ill-conceived, self-serving rash decision in which Barak managed to put the entire state in the dock for its self-defense in the face of murderous rampages by some of its citizens, who had joined forces with implacable external enemies. In his uninhibited, shameless alacrity to gain short-term advantage, Barak evinced no qualms to sacrifice the national interest. He emboldened Israeli Arabs to assume they now possess a license to mutiny. He left the police hobbled the next time they’re called upon to protect you and me.
This same expedient and reckless attitude toward the collective good versus his own immediate benefit is what repeatedly propelled Barak to rush to Kadima’s rescue, while professing to desire Olmert’s speedy departure. As is his invariable habit, Barak says one thing but elaborately does the reverse – as long as it promotes political profit or averts a loss.
Nobody should be one bit surprised. According to Mencken’s timeless predictions, the Baraks who skew our democracy “will promise every man, woman and child in the country whatever he, she or it wants. They’ll be roving the land looking for chances to make the rich poor, remedy the irremediable, succor the unsuccorable, unscramble the unscrambleable, dephlogisticate the undephlogisticable. They’ll cure warts by saying words over them, and pay off the national debt with money that no one will have to earn. In brief, they’ll divest themselves of their character as sensible, candid and truthful men, and become simply candidates for office.”