Moshe Katsav's election, when removed from its flabbergasting circumstances, should provoke no one. Though hardly a revolutionary, the humbly born and softspoken man, who at 24 wrested a remote local council from Labor's oligarchs, was later a young, diligent, and relatively responsible, if lackluster and unimaginative, cabinet minister.
Unfortunately, the circumstances are indeed there, and they add up to a spit in the face of a Zionist icon by non- and sometimes anti-Zionist small-time politicians. All portrayals of Katsav's victory as a reflection of non-Ashkenazi Israel's social emancipation, or of a disenfranchised Right's rally against the Camp David saga, miss the point, which is Shimon Peres's grand betrayal by the Knesset's entire haredi wing.
Katsav would not possibly have won if not for the blanket support he received from Shas and United Torah Judaism, neither of which would candidly concede its intention in advance.
Never mind that Ehud Barak and Peres delivered them all they could ever desire, from wholesale military-service exemptions to Yossi Sarid's ouster from the Education Ministry. What matters is that the haredi parties repeated their stab-in-the-back act of 1990, when they promised Peres the premiership only to break their promises in broad daylight.
Why did they do this to him? During more than half-a-century of public activity Peres was never a secularist crusader. At least in part, Peres was cursed not because of what he really was, but because of what he was identified with, whether justly or not.
Whatever their psychology might have been, Shas and UTJ have dealt Peres so humiliating a blow that the secular, veteran, Ashkenazi, productive Israelis who served lengthy years in the military and pay taxes more than anyone else in the West, will now wonder: In the future, will Moshe Gafni, Eli Yishai, Meir Porush, and rest of the haredi politicians who so nonchalantly decapitated a political monument like Peres do the equivalents of nuclearizing Israel, building an aerospace industry and defeating hyperinflation, to mention but a few of Peres's claims to fame? And if not, who, in their view, will?
Shimon Peres has nothing to be ashamed of. The man who spent his life developing Israel's industry, science, military, and peace process was defeated not by the Likud and the NRP - who work and do army service and never concealed their opposition to Peres - but by cowards who lied to him in the face about their vote and who otherwise spend their time promoting non-work, non-service and non-peace at the expense of those who do work, serve, and seek peace.
The Zionist idea was first and foremost about ending the Ghetto Jew's dependence on others for his livelihood and security. The circumstances of Peres's downfall are merely details in the broad, colorful, and increasingly alarming picture depicting the threat from within to a century of Zionist achievement.