Putting treason into perspective

As far as solidarity goes, it is a slim platform – but it’s an important start.

Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran, Iran. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran, Iran.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israelis, especially those on the political extremes, are fond of bandying around the term “traitor.”
Rabin was a traitor for agreeing to hand over parts of the Promised Land. Netanyahu is a traitor to Judaism’s humanistic values. The Left betrays national solidarity; The Right betrays Zionism.
We are often so entrenched in our individual or group identities that anyone who deviates from our worldview is automatically labeled as a turncoat, disloyal to the national or societal cause.
Then along comes a real life traitor, an elected senior official who allegedly sold Israeli secrets to our arch nemesis, Iran.
The news that former energy minister Gonen Segev was arrested and would be facing trial for assisting the enemy in a time of war, spying against the State of Israel and providing intelligence to the enemy, took Israel by storm on Monday.
Hundreds of news stories were published across all platforms providing leaked details of Segev’s court hearings; testimonies by friends and former colleagues; and reactions by his defense team.
Scores of analyses speculated on the nature of the damage the ex-politician could have caused by sharing state secrets with his handlers in Tehran. He was characterized as a serial failure, a greedy opportunist, a small-time macher – and at the same time, as the Islamic republic’s greatest intelligence asset.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Segev has been out of the loop for at least two decades. While his previous status and access could have provided Iran with insights into Israel’s operating methods and patterns of behavior, his familiarity with real-time developments, individual players and the considerations that go into high-level decisions are close to nothing. So in those terms, he could not have been much help to those wishing to do harm to Israel.
That said, the mental picture of Segev – whose colorful history includes serving jail time for drug smuggling and fraud, flying to Tehran on a forged passport and meeting with his handlers in secret apartments around the world – is a disturbing one. Most disturbing perhaps because of the ease of imagining it.
The former minister has a reputation for being a selfish and greedy person; one for whom personal interest trumped all other considerations. Shocking as the accusations are, it does not require too much mental effort to connect that sort of character to the crimes of which he is accused.
But the real blow that Segev’s case delivers is to the idea that there is a basic level of solidarity and loyalty that Israelis will not betray; that there is a line people will not cross. Add to that the comments made by a Shin Bet official – who said that the Iranian mode of operation suggests a pattern of behavior and that Segev is likely not alone – and the real significance of the case becomes clear.
Say what you will about political opponents; few would suspect their ideological adversaries of selling out state security. The Right may think that leftists are weak on terror and too quick to surrender territory, but only extremists say that they actively seek to undermine Israel’s future. The Left may think that rightists are bullies and racists, but even the biggest peacenik wouldn’t assume they operate out of a desire to harm the state and its people.
The accusations Segev has been charged with – and it must be noted that he is still innocent until convicted – transcend ideology, and that’s what is so worrying about this. One can disagree about ideology and still agree about the need to maintain security. But when it comes to personal greed, no one is immune – and it is those with the loosest convictions who are the most susceptible.
With a real-life traitor of the worst kind seemingly standing before us, perhaps it’s time to retire the term for a while, or at least reserve it only for those who have truly earned it. Yes, it would remove a rhetorical weapon from our arsenal, but in return we will gain a realization of the basic things we do all share – starting with a desire to continue living in our country.
As far as solidarity goes, it is a slim platform – but it’s an important start.