Responsible behavior by the country's leaders is more than a pipe dream.
By LIAT COLLINS
When Bank Hapoalim major shareholder Shari Arison granted interviews last week revealing her "extraordinary" way of decision-making, the media responded by turning her into a cash cow, as it were, milking the story of her dreams and visions for all they were worth. Having made - or at least inherited - her first billion, Arison has written her first book, Birth: When the Spiritual and the Material Come Together.
In the words of one of her publicists, it is "the compelling life story of navigating privilege and its inherent conflicts, and emerging from that journey to leverage her resources to generate authentic global change." The media picked up on the "poor little rich girl" story of her childhood, but the spotlights were reserved for her statement: "All my life I've had visions and gotten messages."
A Yediot Aharonot story about Arison and her book says she claims to have predicted various things, from the Indian Ocean tsunami to Hurricane Katrina, the rocket fire on southern Israel and even the global financial crisis.
When asked why she did nothing if she foresaw the recession, she replied: "God gave me this gift to do good, not so I can turn a profit."
Arison's strong spiritual side - and undoubted Zionism - is no secret. Her philanthropy has received almost as much coverage as her dismissal of 900 Bank Hapoalim employees in 2003.
She has also stressed that her visions do not interfere with the running of Hapoalim. "The bank is managed very professionally. There's a chairman and a board and everything is done according to law. It's not my visions that run the bank, that's ridiculous," she said. And, in a vote of confidence, shares of Hapoalim rose 1.6 percent on June 21, after the interviews.
More than one commentator pointed out that Arison's practices are not that different from asking venerable rabbis for blessings and advice, which many financial bigwigs and politicians do openly, particularly before elections.
Arison, by all accounts, is successful. Judging by her trademark smile, she is also usually happy. The public seems to have faith that whatever works for her works for Hapoalim, and is her own business. Many people even admired her for standing up to Israel Bank Governor Stanley Fischer last month when he demanded she fire Hapoalim's chairman Dan Dankner without explaining why.
Less popular was the party she threw last year when her then-husband, Ofer Glazer, was released from prison after a six-month sentence for sexual offenses.
Glazer could give a few tips to some other celebrities on their way to jail. Dudu ("The First in Entertainment") Topaz is still detained while police investigate his alleged hiring of goons to attack a list of people he disliked. The case led one younger colleague to declare: "That's so old-fashioned. If he wanted revenge, why didn't he just send them a computer virus?"
Perhaps he could also have launched an income-tax inquiry - the ultimate payback.
On the same day last week, two former ministers discovered that the long arm of the law is catching up with hands that dip into the public's pockets.
Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson was sentenced on June 24 to five years and five months in jail for stealing NIS 2.3 million from the National Federation of Workers and its subsidiary, breach of trust, money-laundering and fraud.
Handing down the punishment, Judge Bracha Ophir-Tom pointed out: "It's ludicrous to say that the accused didn't understand the criminal significance of the actions he took. If the person put in charge of the state's coffers can't understand that, then who can?"
In a similar message, the Supreme Court increased the jail term of former minister and Shas MK Shlomo Benizri from 18 months to four years. He was convicted last year, along with his mentor Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, of accepting bribes, breach of faith, obstructing justice, and conspiracy to commit a crime. In passing the harsher sentence, Justice Edmond Levy said corruption in government is increasing and requires more severe countermeasures.
It's not clear, however, whether it's really corruption that is on the rise, or the reports and convictions. Maybe it just means that Mr. Israeli, the average guy, has lost patience with his leaders. That's better than losing faith in them, after all.
"Yosher tziburi," public integrity, has become the bon ton in this tiny part of the global village, where the financial tsunami of Arison's nightmares has left many people battered.
Who can say whether the careers of the state's earliest leaders would have survived had the media exposed, to the extent it does today, everything from mismanagement to, in at least one case, rumors of archeological thefts?
The behavior of the country's leadership always comes to mind this time of year as we mark the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. Three years ago, we discovered that then-IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz had found time to sell stocks as the hostilities broke out. Almost as incredible is what was on Haim Ramon's mind that day. The former deputy prime minister forcibly French-kissed a female soldier - an offense for which he was later convicted.
Only now, as an opposition MK, is Ramon reportedly intending to quit the Knesset. He is apparently waiting until after the release of a state comptroller's report looking into whether police acted illegally by wiretapping his conversations for separate investigations against him and former prime minister Ehud Olmert's former bureau chief, Shula Zaken.
Olmert, meanwhile, is trying to shake off one corruption charge after another. The son of another former premier, Ariel Sharon's son Omri, has already served time for illegal fundraising. And former president Moshe Katsav is in the process of being tried in court for sexual offenses (having been already largely convicted in the press). That's just the partial list.
Attitudes are changing, but we still have a way to go. Many leading reporters and even old generals defended former Gaza Division commander Brig.-Gen. Moshe "Chico" Tamir when he was demoted by a military court earlier this month. Tamir was convicted of permitting his 14-year-old son to drive a military dune buggy, which he crashed into a civilian vehicle. According to the court, Tamir lied and tried to hush up the incident.
Like the military tribunal, I can't understand how soldiers (and their families) can be asked to trust a commander who doesn't tell the truth. Not three years after Lebanon II. Not ever.
A dose of Arison's positive thinking seems much less dangerous.
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