This week the headlines in Israel were all about Silvan Shalom resigning from politics. Reading them, I felt pangs of sadness that such a fine politician had come to this.
My work with Silvan in the Knesset years ago was a very special experience for me, and I learned much about the man in the process. A fashion show of all things brought us together. His wife, Judy Nir Moses Shalom, was attending and we were introduced by a close mutual friend.
Judy asked my friend how well connected I was in the Jewish world, and asked for my help. Judy’s dream and goal was to see her husband become prime minister of the State of Israel. He was already a success domestically, having wielded great influence in the halls of the Knesset.
Now it was time to introduce him to the Diaspora Jewry.
She asked if I would be willing to take Silvan to the United States to introduce him to the Jewish leadership there. After meetings with him in the Knesset it was decided that we would arrange the trip around a conference which Silvan would be attending in New York at the United Nations. I spent weeks making calls and arrangements for him. It was a rewarding opportunity for me. Some of the major Jewish leaders who met him as a result thanked me for making the valuable “kesher” between them. One told me that after years of working with his organization, this was in fact the most important gift I had ever given them; an introduction to this very special man.
As a result of this alliance, I went to the Knesset on many occasions to attend his meetings with Diaspora organizations and to make suggestions afterwards. His English was in need of improvement and I made notes on different points and shared my thoughts with him.
What was most fascinating to me was that this man, whom I had not known at all before, was a vital power broker in the halls of the Knesset. He was asked by Moshe Katsav to run his campaign for president.
He did, and Katsav won. He was asked by Ariel Sharon to run his campaign for prime minister. He did, and Sharon won.
When Sharon was elected, it was clear that Silvan would receive an important ministry. The perfect one would have been the Foreign Ministry, but that prize was held in reserve because Sharon had to form a coalition and needed to award the position to Shimon Peres to bring him on board.
When Silvan told me that he was accepting the Finance Ministry, we both knew it was a disappointment to him. When I visited him there, he told me that he was in a “loselose” situation because the economy was in bad shape and there was little light on the horizon. He took a difficult position, knowing there was no glory in it. He was a team player to his core.
Ultimately when Netanyahu was elected prime minister for his second term, his number two man was in fact Silvan Shalom, who had finally received the post he deserved as foreign minister of the State of Israel.
When Sharon decided to form his own political party and split from Likud, there was a dilemma for Shalom: should he follow or stay true to Likud? He made a politically fatal decision to stay. Clearly he felt that his path to the prime ministership lay with his commitment to the Likud Party.
Life is stranger than fiction in politics.
When Sharon created his new party, he brought people together with no regard to political philosophy.
He needed names and support.
He enlisted Tzipi Livni whom he had known since she was a child.
At that time she was fairly new in politics but Sharon was fond of her.
Silvan Shalom had been his second in command before, and now he needed replacing. His choice at the end of the day was Ehud Olmert.
Had Silvan followed Sharon to his new party, it would have been prime minister Shalom who took over the reins of power after Sharon had his massive stroke. Instead, it was prime minister Olmert.
Silvan’s first and fatal mistake resulted in the loss of the very prize for which I had originally been brought to his offices: to help him become prime minister Israel. I can only imagine his own disappointment in those days that followed.
The public perception of Silvan was of a man who worked hard but had little charisma. I heard this voiced over and over. It was not something I could say to him in person. I do not believe he realized how he was perceived. It was however a false perception. He was charming in person and his success wheeling and dealing in the halls of the Knesset were legend.
Unfortunately, he was unable to project that image on camera. My biggest complaint with him when I worked with him was that I wanted to see more passion... anger...energy from him when he spoke.
He said it was not his style. I felt it was his one political weakness, but it was his choice.
When Henry Kissinger was interviewed about his success with women prior to his marrying Nancy Guinness, he responded that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
Kissinger was never a handsome man, but was surrounded by beautiful women. The truth of his statement cannot be ignored.
Those who attain power become seductive by virtue of their accomplishments and their connections.
When the accusations from women against Silvan began to become public, I reserved judgment.
When I read yesterday that 11 women have made such accusations with the police, I shuddered.
There is a culture in politics in general, but in Israel in specific, that finds men in power unable to resist opportunities with women, which avail themselves on a daily basis. Perhaps it is because their passion for success translates into other actions. I feel very uncomfortable judging people based on rumor and accusation. That is the mandate of the courts.
It is however, heartbreaking to see commitment and talent and love of country come to a devastating halt as a result of human frailty totally unrelated to the issues that made the man great to begin with. The problem is universal. A lifetime of work and devotion will be forgotten.
The history books will never speak about prime minister Silvan Shalom.