Israel's political crisis, Benjamin Netanyahu and the free-stuff lure

I’ve never won the lottery, any lottery. Which is really no surprise, since I’ve never played the lottery, any lottery.

MANY GENERATIONS: The Brots have three grown children, 19 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
MANY GENERATIONS: The Brots have three grown children, 19 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
I’ve never won the lottery, any lottery. Which is really no surprise, since I’ve never played the lottery, any lottery.
Even if I would want to, I wouldn’t know how, at least in this country.
I walk by the ubiquitous Lotto booths in malls and on the streets, see folks sitting at tables deeply engrossed in something, and have no idea what it is exactly they are doing. I’m too embarrassed to show my ignorance by asking them or the guy selling the tickets how this all works, so I just don’t play.
I also don’t play because I’m actually afraid to test my luck. If something good happens to you at a million-to-one odds, then by the same token something bad can happen to you at a million-to-one odds. Better neither one. Just lay low, don’t tempt fate, fly under the radar.
THAT ALL being said, I felt like I had won the lottery the other day flying out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). There I was, having already waited in the long security line, having already shed my shoes and belt, having already gone through the body scanning machine and undergone a pat down, when I looked into the basket containing the myriad items emptied out of my pockets to see a card saying that El Al had invited me to be a guest in their first-class lounge.
Wow, I thought, what luck. How’d that get there? Who put that there?
I looked to my left and right, expecting to see some El Al fairy flitting from one security line to the next, but saw no pixies. It was like that ding-dong-ditch prank we used to play as kids, where we would ring someone’s doorbell and run away before some old guy opened the door and looked in vain for someone there. Only this time, after ringing the doorbell and before running for their life, someone left me a prize.
All excited, I headed to the El Al lounge. For 15 minutes I hunted for the lounge, only to realize that El AL doesn’t have their own lounge at SFO. Instead, they share one with Air France. But that made no difference to me – took none of the shine off – and I just puffed out my chest and entered that lounge as if I was born to be there.
Once inside I spied bottles of alcohol I don’t drink, because I’m not much of a drinker, and heaps of food I don’t eat, because I keep kosher.
After surveying the generous – but for me useless – offerings, I grabbed some carrot sticks, cucumber spears and strawberries and had a seat on one of the cushioned chairs in the crowded lounge (I wasn’t the only lucky one to get this free voucher).
Sitting there, munching rabbit-like on vegetables while others were eating piping-hot tomato soup and a savory smelling Asian noodle dish, I still felt that I had won big.
Until it dawned on me that I would probably be even happier walking outside in the terminal, browsing through the shops and flipping through magazines.
Yet I stayed in the lounge with my strawberries. Why? Because I got a free pass to a First Class lounge, and I was going to use it, whether I even wanted to or not. Why? Because people like free stuff.
THIS SAYS something about the human condition. Offer somebody something for free, and they’ll take it, even if they really don’t need it, or can afford to pay for it on their own.
I’m always amazed at the long lines at gas stations on Friday mornings as people are willing to wait 30 minutes to fill up because they’ll receive a free newspaper – one they probably are not going to have time to read anyhow because they wasted so much time in line.
I have a relative who insists on driving across town to one particular gas station to fill up because they offer a free cup of coffee for every gas purchase of over NIS 150.
And another elderly relative, family lore has it, once needed a walker to help her mobility. She had one at home, but was offered a free one at a clinic – and took it. There was no place in her small apartment to even store the second walker, but she took it anyhow. Why? Because people like free stuff.
But why look further afield at relatives? I was invited this summer to the US Embassy’s annual July 4th reception. There was a huge array of food at the reception in Jerusalem, and as I entered the hall I became a man possessed. I’m not a particularly huge eater, but all that food was there, all of it was free, all of it was kosher and I just went from one station to the next, eating everything -- and actually annoyed if anybody, even a source with a possible story tip, stopped me to talk.
At the McDonalds booth I ate not one burger, but two, and I never eat two hamburgers at one sitting. But it was there and free and the inclination to partake – even though I was already stuffed to the gills – was overwhelming.
ALL THIS came to mind this week as I tried to understand the country’s present political crisis. I have no idea whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is guilty of the charges the attorney-general spelled out last week. The courts will work all that out.
But the one thing that perplexed me since the very beginning was Case 1000, the one in which Netanyahu is accused of taking hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of free cigars, champagne and jewelry from two millionaires.
Why? Why, if it’s true, would he do this? Here is a man who surely doesn’t lack for money – he gets a hefty government salary, owns one house in Caesarea, an apartment in Jerusalem, and lives for free in the Prime Minister’s Residence. What, he can’t buy his own cigars? Why take these gifts?
Why? For the same reason I went into the First Class lounge and stayed there, though I didn’t even really want to, or why I grabbed that second burger at the US Embassy’s shindig. Because everybody – the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor – have a weakness for one thing: free stuff.
As that 1920s show tune turned into a hit by singers like Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby put it so well: “The best things in life are free.”
Or not.