Grumpy Old Man: That Diogenes feeling

I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s any upright, law-abiding society left, or whether this country has become a catch-as- catch-can free-for-all.

Liberman at press conference (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Liberman at press conference
When my sister and I were young children, our mother was a stay-at-home mom. She had worked as a bookkeeper since graduating high school, but postwar salaries for men, while not really very much, were sufficient for small families to get by on dad’s income alone.
As moms went about their household chores, television was perhaps the primary pacifier for toddlers. For me it was heaven in an electronic box, what with all those noisy and often silly game shows.
There was Truth or Consequences, with a smooth and youthful Bob Barker and Beulah the Buzzer (which emitted a sound that would leave me in stitches). The idea was to answer a trivia question (the truth) before Beulah blew; if you couldn’t, you had to do something that was more often than not embarrassing (the consequences).
There was Treasure Hunt, with the fasttalking carnival barker Jan Murray, where you had to answer questions before going through a maze of pirate’s treasure chests decorated with question marks and dollar signs. Sometimes there was money, sometimes just a token gift, sometimes merely a head of cabbage. The motif was just as much avarice as having a good time.
Then there was Who Do You Trust, with a very boyish and affable Johnny Carson, where couples had to answer questions correctly for cash. The couples were first given hints about the question that would follow, and – how not? – the man was asked if he “trusted” the woman to get it right. (This was the 1950s, remember, and bras were not yet for burning.) Eventually, some game shows went prime time and got heavy-duty with cash prizes – into the high tens of thousands of dollars, not much by today’s standards but back then a lot of money. They also became heavy-duty with greed, and not just that of the contestants. Perhaps it was inevitable that this led to grand juries, congressional hearings and a full-blown scandal centering on prepping attractive or otherwise popular players, all for the sake of viewership and the going rate for selling soap flakes during commercial breaks.
By the end of the decade, these high-flying reality shows of their day were mostly gone. But the question remained: Who do you trust? I’m sorry to say that 55 years later, at least for me, the query persists – and too often I have visions of the lamp-carrying Diogenes of Sinope trudging through the streets of ancient Athens in his ongoing, if theatric, search for an honest man.
THE ALLEGATIONS fly, thick as locusts.
While actual indictments are somewhat thinner, we still see enough of Israel’s high and mighty doing their preening for the press, putting on faces of confidence and certitude, their voices carried aloft on soaring flights of unbridled hubris. Then they huddle with their lawyers, hands hiding mouths from lip readers, bright, haughty eyes suddenly going dark and creased with signs of concern as the seriousness of it all sinks in.
For many months – years, really – it’s been Ehud Olmert parading from one courtroom to another, dogged by tales of byzantine intrigues and labyrinthine schemes based on what in the end involved little more than simple, cash-filled envelopes of the type thrown at people in power who can do the bidding of those willing to pay.
Of course, it’s not only Olmert, whose long quest for political dominance and love of the good life were no secret to those who for decades had watched him from up close. After all, we have our share of Avraham Hirschsons, Arye Deris, Shlomo Benizris, Naomi Blumenthals, Tzachi Hanegbis, Omri Sharons and Shlomo Lahianis, all people who knew which halls of power yielded the best returns. (For heaven’s sake, we even have Gonen Segev, a physician and ex-cabinet minister turned “businessman” who thought he could convince customs investigators that Ecstasy pills were M&Ms.) We also have our Moshe Katsavs, Haim Ramons, Yitzhak Mordechais and countless others in somewhat lesser positions of power, particularly in the army. For some reason – perhaps known only to Freud and some of his later colleagues, some with names like Duncan, Spicer, Cockburn and Horney (all taken from one bibliography) – these Israeli men can’t seem to keep their lips unpuckered or their trousers zipped, lusting as they do for rewards of a more ephemeral nature.
But it’s the more traditional types of plunder that seem to keep our investigation rooms and courts the buzzing hives of activity they are (and which, were there sufficient personnel, might probably be in session around the clock). I’m not talking underworld figures or the great unwashed.
I’m talking white-collar, educated, cultured and successful. Government figures. Titans of business. Senior bank executives.
High-ranking police officers and even judges.
Which is why, when a scandal recently began to unfold within the ranks of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party and among some of its ancillary players, the tale seemed to raise nary an eyebrow – as if graft and corruption, cronyism and nepotism were just several more facets of the local scenery.
To be sure, Faina Kirschenbaum, her daughters and all the others mentioned in connection with the latest high-level ignominy du jour are innocent until proven guilty. An upright, law-abiding society owes them this much. But I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s any upright, law-abiding society left, or whether this country has become a catch-as-catch-can free-for-all in which the wealthy and powerful divvy up the riches while throwing everyone else the occasional scrap, just to keep them in their place.
It’s gotten so bad that when anti-trust commissioner David Gilo recently threw a wellhead wrench into everyone’s dream of energy self-sufficiency, we were forced to sit back and truly wonder whether a couple of major players had, with a surreptitious series of winks and nods, sought to ensure for themselves far more than their fair share of profits from the Leviathan and Tamar offshore natural gas fields while the rest of us considered ourselves fortunate to make do with somewhat cheaper gas and electric bills.
It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that when director- general Orna Hozman-Bechor of the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry protested to Gilo that his decision might bring “significant and fundamental harm to the energy sector in Israel,” the first thing I wondered was whether she was working for me or somewhere along the line had quietly gone over to Delek Group or Noble Energy. Or both.
In reality, Hozman-Bechor is probably an honest, upright, decent person, someone who truly cares about this country and every last one of its citizens, a high-ranking official who sincerely wants to wean Israel away from energy dependencies based on here-today/gone-tomorrow relationships and help future generations reap the rewards that come from an abundant natural resource.
If that’s the case, madam, I apologize.
It’s not you. It’s some of the people around you who give everyone else in positions of power a bad name.
It’s become one big riddle: Who do you trust? IT’S GETTING that I myself no longer trust anyone in a position of power. Not presidents or prime ministers, cabinet ministers or lawmakers, mayors or municipal officials, bank chairmen or burial society chairmen, and sometimes even butchers, bakers or candlestick makers.
The sense that I am being taken for a big, expensive sucker’s ride no matter what I do simply dogs me.
I say it’s high time for a lot more truth – and for some serious consequences for all those on their continuous treasure hunt.