Grumpy Old Man: Of nuts and bottles

As we so avidly follow bizarre behavior on the margins, we ignore potentially far worse behavior where it really counts.

Yair Lapid (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yair Lapid
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Sara Netanyahu, meet Heather Cho.
Cho is the daughter of the chairman of Korean Air. Until recently she was a vice president, responsible for in-flight services.
After some imperious behavior, though, she’s a national joke.
Seems she was in first class, her plane heading for the runway, when a flight attendant served her macadamia nuts from a bag, not from a dish. The chief steward on the flight says Cho went, well, nuts – forcing him to kneel in contrition as the plane headed back to the gate, where she had him kicked off.
Now she’s on trial in Seoul for various violations of aviation law, and also for trying to engineer a cover-up by forcing airline employees to lie about the affair.
Yes, bad behavior seems to be going around. And it’s not just celebs and instances of DUI or disorderly conduct.
It’s serious stuff.
Remember Phil Spector? He’s the musical genius behind the “wall of sound,” a monumental development in pop music. But this little man, long known for his quirks and eccentricities, ended up convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a girlfriend and will be 88 before he’s eligible for parole.
It’s even serious people behaving badly.
Serving as head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss- Kahn was accused of raping a maid at a swank New York City hotel. After prosecutors deemed the woman’s testimony more a liability than an asset, the charges were dropped. But now Strauss- Kahn, who floated his name as a possible French president, is on trial in his native land, charged with – of all things – being a luxury pimp.
Closer to home we have a former cabinet minister who did time for drug smuggling, an ex-president still doing time for rape, and pols who’ve been in the slammer for corruption (and an exprime minister apparently on the way).
Outside politics, there are numerous people in uniform caught using rank for everything from falsifying reports of misconduct to obtaining sexual favors from female subordinates. And there are key union heads who muscle their way into tenders for outside services or (and this takes us straight back to politics) coerce underlings for their vote in party primaries.
So in the Middle East’s sole democracy, you might say bad behavior is pretty routine. Yet as much as we like to vilify our prime minister’s wife for the way she runs the household, returning state-owned bottles and pocketing the deposits is literally small change (if it happened at all). And like her first-born, Yair, he of the Norwegian shiksa dustup, Sara is not running for anything.
What is beyond my comprehension, though, is our tolerance for poorly behaved politicians who make a comeback and then demand our next vote.
I CAN’T say I’m enamored with Yair Lapid. His swagger and arrogance put him in a league approaching that of Sara’s husband, and his willingness to betray campaign promises for the sake of political standing has, like the same willingness in Sara’s husband, made many supporters gag like a long finger shoved down the throat.
But he said something worthwhile early last week in his desperate campaign to keep the Yesh Atid party a force to be reckoned with – if not in parliamentary strength, then at least in civic decency.
“The unbelievable thing is that there are people who left this place and returned to public life,” he told assembled journalists.
“This place” was Ramle’s Ma’asiyahu Prison, which has hosted a few of our national and local leaders over the years, perhaps most notably Shas party chairman Arye Deri. Being the savvy media person he is, Lapid used its front gate as a prominent and powerful backdrop to cement his outrage at the way we so blithely allow politicians suspected and even convicted of corruption to continue feeding at the public trough.
“Everyone – the entire political system – says it’s okay. After a seven-year break, they’ve paid their debt to society, so why shouldn’t they come back?” Lapid complained. “It has to stop.”
The Yesh Atid leader promised his party would introduce a bill banning those convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude from running for national office. For life. No more seven years to “cool off” (whatever that means). Beyond this, any public official hauled in for police questioning would have to sing, resign if charged, and face a stiffer punishment than the rest of us would.
It makes a lot of sense. And it makes sense as to who came up with this – if you look around, you can’t help but notice that Yesh Atid is one of the few parties running in the March 17 election with a slate of people who have never seen the inside of an interrogation room, much less a prison cell.
As to why this proposed bill makes a lot of sense, here’s a small case in point.
The same week Lapid set up shop outside Ma’asiyahu Prison, the Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi told a radio interviewer that the ruckus over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to a joint session of Congress was the fault of John Boehner, not Netanyahu or his ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer.
“It seems the speaker of the House,” Hanegbi said, “made a move – which we trusted – but which ultimately turned out to have been a one-sided move, and not a move by both sides.”
The “sides” are congressional Republicans and Democrats, the latter now saying by the bushel that they weren’t consulted, that the speech was a poor idea and that they might boycott it should it go ahead. This does nothing but further cement the prime minister’s image in many US quarters as the Republican senator from Israel.
But let’s get back to Hanegbi.
The man who is now our deputy foreign minister never vacationed at Ma’asiyahu, although in 2010 he was found guilty of perjury in a political corruption case. Perjury is where you’re caught lying under oath, which is absolutely the last place one is supposed to try getting away with that.
So when he speaks during a radio interview in which there’s no sworn oath to speak the truth, I kind of wonder – just as I wonder what this convicted perjurer is doing at any given time deep in the bowels of state.
I WOULDN’T exactly call Yesh Atid’s Knesset list a clean slate. But the names are clean enough. Which is why a lot of us should take another look at Lapid – not to vote for him (heaven forfend), but to recognize that what he is saying goes to the very core of what’s so wrong in this country.
We should go nuts when pols like Deri or Hanegbi come back after court convictions and then ask for our vote.
Like Heather Cho, we should turn red, scream and hit the ceiling, and then demand to return to the gate.
On the way, we should make the arrogant freeloaders kneel in a plea for contrition before banishing them forever to the world of powerless schnooks like you and me. And then we should make sure they aren’t hired as lobbyists, with fat expense accounts to buy off old political chums still in power.
In fact, we should limit their future employment opportunities entirely. I know of a supermarket or two where they need help in the bottle room.
Sara, would you please throw in a kind word?