The Sa’ar saga
Only candidates with extra-thick skins dare venture into the merciless political arena. The dermatologically challenged stand to be defeated by the unbearable dread of stigma.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar Photo: Muki Schwartz
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar is one of the more personable and popular among
the array of politicos in our ever-boisterous arena. He is also reputed to have
been good at his job. All this propelled him to the No. 2 slot on the Likud
candidates list (No. 3 in the unified ticket with Yisrael
Success often breeds enemies – first and foremost within the
political sphere – but antagonists can also lurk in the family circle and social
milieu. They can sling mud.
That is the scenario painted by sources
described as “close to Sa’ar” in response to a letter that alleges he conducted
inappropriate sexual relations with an office subordinate. The letter, which is
only initialed, indeed appears highly suspect, especially as the only woman with
the given initials in Sa’ar’s work vicinity hotly denies she wrote
Moreover, the operative request in that letter – that Sa’ar not be
appointed to ministerial office again – speaks volumes. It imparts the
impression of a vindictive motive, regardless of the facts of the matter. The
letter was, additionally, accompanied by numerous SMS messages in the same vein.
This smacks of an outright campaign.
We of course have no independent
means of getting to the bottom of this specific imbroglio. But this case has far
wider implications that ought to trouble our society.
We are a small,
insular society and the influential innermost concentric circles of our society
are even smaller. Any rumor is likely to spread like wildfire in these
circumstances, intensifying the damage. Salacious gossip mongering is a powerful
At the heart of our concern is the ease with which reputations
can be sullied. Without a direct complaint by a supposed victim, it is very hard
to substantiate any innuendo.
Nonetheless, even the preliminary probe by
police – an artificial term that seemingly distinguishes it from a full-blown
investigation – means delving into Sa’ar’s personal affairs to some degree or
another. That in itself reenergizes the titillation that in turn makes some mud
stick even without proof of malfeasance.
This reality is not unknown to
the attorney-general who ordered the probe. He was admittedly in a tight spot.
He could not avoid investigation, but it was clear that any investigation, under
whichever moniker it went, meant attendant publicity that perforce fanned the
insinuations. The media hype alone offers instant reward to whoever set out to
But our legal system is not guiltless. It was reluctant to
investigate and then to prosecute the counterfeiters who produced the “Harpaz
Document” that targeted then-candidate for chief of the IDF General Staff,
Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant in 2010. The foot-dragging and obfuscation lasted till the
state comptroller’s involvement. To this day nobody has been tried for the
This can only encourage other would-be falsifiers. It appears
that they can hurl mud with impunity and that, even if the sham is eventually
exposed for what it is, their victim will not survive uninjured. Careers and
personal lives can both be destroyed even without a smoking gun to corroborate
Gone are the days when even the smoking gun was
ignored. Moshe Dayan, for example, proved invulnerable to relentless exposés of
his womanizing and illicit dealings in archeological artifacts. People knew, but
Dayan was a national hero, albeit a naughty one.
Ours is no longer the
age of heroes. Fear of defamation, gross invasion of privacy and the resultant
possible disgrace in the eyes of an uncharitable public can dissuade the most
talented and worthy of individuals from entering the political fray.
creates a harmful process of negative selection. As things are, only candidates
with extra-thick skins dare venture into the merciless political arena. The
dermatologically challenged stand to be defeated by the unbearable dread of
stigma, even in the absence of an obvious transgression.
Thus the best
potential leaders might be put off from running, leaving the field open only to
those who had developed protective armor capable of deflecting
The latter are not necessarily the best in our midst. We all
pay the penalty for this collective loss.