Between Greece and Holyland

There is a relationship between a political leadership’s morality and delivery.

May 7, 2010 15:37
Isaiah Gustav Dore

Isaiah Gustav Dore 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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The rioters who rampaged through the streets of Athens doubtfully read Ecclesiastes recently, but they probably would buy King Solomon’s insight that bread is not won by the wise, nor wealth by the intelligent.

Otherwise, why did they protest the bitter potion that the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have prescribed for them? To them, the fact that to avoid collective bankruptcy it is being demanded that they lose jobs, take pay cuts, get less in pensions and pay more in taxes is not a function of how much and how well they worked. Rather, it is the ploy of some distant, dishonest and dark power, an amorphous organization of rich and heartless people by no means wiser than them.

Israelis watching this specter feel it is happening not only far from their doorstep, but on a different planet.

If anything, while obviously identifying with the ordinary Greek’s anguish, they also feel a sense of relief, and for several reasons. First, because when Israel reached the brink of bankruptcy in 1985, the foreign aid component in the rescue package that averted catastrophe was hardly 1 percent of the 110 billion euros that Greece this week obtained as it too proceeded to the depressing business of slashing deficits, budgets, debts and public-sector jobs.

And second, since executing its stabilization plan, Israel’s economy has become a universally celebrated success story. Indeed, this economy has been so solid of late that watching the turbulence in Athens from our armchair, it is difficult to believe that Greece is less than three hours’ flight from this land of shrinking debts, soaring exports, solid currency, declining unemployment, buoyant stock market and skyrocketing housing prices.

And this is, of course, besides the Schadenfreude Middle Israelis feel when watching the same EU that for decades pontificated to us about how to deal with our enemies, failing so magnificently to deal not with enemies, but with its own kith and kin. Israelis now recall wryly the arrogance with which the EU’s predecessor, the EEC, in its first foreign policy move, the Venice Declaration of 1980, prodded Israel to recognize the PLO. Maybe now, having been exposed so nude that they needed the non-European IMF to force its own member to do what its illness demands, the newly humbled EU’s leaders will realize they are not necessarily the great diplomatic geniuses some of them like to assume they are.

Still, roaming the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv these days you would think that since the Jewish state is not part of the EU, nor in deep debt or otherwise embroiled in any macroeconomic mess – the entire Greek affair is none of Israel’s business.

If only.

THE GREEK crisis is not merely about mismanagement. Sure, there was plenty of that too, much of it originating in the spendthrift years of current Prime Minister George Papandreou’s father, Andreas, during his premiership in the 1980s. Yet the Greek crisis is first of all about political immorality.

For one thing, the incumbent leaders’ cheap rhetoric about the crisis being an inheritance from the previous government is conniving, as they are now carrying out the very austerity measures that in last fall’s election campaign they promised to avoid, even when their conservative opponents insisted they were inevitable.

However, the great sins that lie at the root of the Greek crisis precede the socialist government’s recent rise to power.

To consciously abuse an idea as noble as the EU foundational quest to build harmony and solidarity among former enemies is a crime of the tallest order. And this is essentially what a succession of Greek leaderships did, when they accepted the rich European economies’ handouts while only pretending to stand up to the economic demands that came attached to that ongoing charity. That was highway robbery, just as cooking the books so that Greece’s economic figures would seem pretty enough for it to be accepted to the Euro-zone, was fraud of the highest order. In these regards the Greek public now has all the reason in the world to fume. And yet, the fact that social turmoil and national bankruptcy are prone to follow governmental lawlessness has been known for ages. This is what Solomon meant when he said that “where there is no vision, the people perish.”

SEEN THIS way, the Greek crisis suddenly seems more relevant to the Israeli situation than initially assumed.

Yes, the Israeli economy is currently solid. However, corruption is in the air. It is as blunt as the Holyland monstrosity, as extravagant as a new executive circle’s $3 million, $4 million and also $5 million annualized salary, and as deep as the network of bribed officials who allegedly deprived Jerusalem of a full decade of honest and visionary leadership.

The Holyland scandal may or may not eventually land people in jail. However, thousands of commuters driving daily by the hill where Jerusalem’s main thruway, soccer stadium and shopping mall meet will never believe this project was born innocently, and the thousands who see its 32-story turret protrude skyward from as far as the Bethlehem Hills in the south and the Binyamin Mountains in the north need no exegesis for Isaiah’s warning: “Ah, those who add house to house and join field to field... surely, great houses shall lie forlorn, spacious and splendid ones without occupants.”

To us Jerusalemites, Holyland will always represent the moral abyss where our city’s leadership landed the morning after Teddy Kollek’s departure. The allegation that their disparagement of the city’s inhabitants and trampling of the public interest involved multiple layers of elected and appointed officials is frightening enough. The knowledge that police have also arrested the former heads of Bank Hapoalim and the Israel Lands Administration in a separate, but strikingly similar affair is chilling. And the allegation that this entire troupe, along with its mentality, habits and methods, climbed all the way to the Jewish state’s very political summit is altogether paralyzing.

Greece, it turns out, might still be economically distant from us, but morally it is here.

The link between a leadership’s personal morality and political delivery is firm. The Israeli media’s initial suspicion, back in summer ’06, that the IDF’s flawed performance in Lebanon was related to its leaders’ moral levity now stands vindicated. For “a king of justice will establish the land, and a king who receives gifts will destroy it” (Proverbs 29:4).

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