The financial disclosures made by most of the candidates for Israel’s presidency make fascinating reading. If accurate, the numbers tell arguably the most important story of this race. Above all they illustrate a generational divide.
On the one hand you have the 75 and over candidates Ruby Rivlin and Dalia Dorner. Each owns just one four-room apartment in Jerusalem, which they purchased 40 years ago. Each reached the pinnacle of public service, whether in politics or the judiciary, but neither was apparently interested in parlaying their success into lavish material comfort.
On the other you have the 65 and under youngsters of the race, Dalia Itzik and Meir Shitreet. Itzik (to her credit) declared the three apartments that she owns, two in Jerusalem and one in a luxury tower in Tel Aviv. Meir Shitreet, who is thought to be one of the wealthier members of the Knesset, declined to disclose his assets.
It is clear that Itzik and Shitreet have done well. This is not to suggest, that either has done anything improper or illegal or that their assets were not honestly earned. Both have contributed much to public life and I know of no reason not to accord them gratitude and respect for that.
I will never forget my first visit to the Begin Center Museum. At one point in the tour you find yourself sitting in a recreated living room on frayed 1950’s couches. The guide informs you that you are sitting on the convertible couch-bed that Menachem and Aliza Begin slept on for 29 years in their one and a half room Tel Aviv apartment while Begin was leader of the opposition.
At that moment and, for that matter when you visit Ben Gurion’s book-lined hut in Sde Boker, or read Oriana Fallaci’s account of Golda Meir as prime minister doing her own washing up, you realize the chasm in public service ethics that separates the simplicity of the founders from the ostentation of the Olmerts and their like.
Rivlin and Dorner grew up in the shadow of Begin and Ben Gurion’s example, the generation that scorned material wealth and those who sought it as unserious “careerists” who would pawn their principles for a car and a comfortable position.
Whereas the younger generation entered public life in the 80’s and 90’s when the botched privatization of publicly owned industries bequeathed to us many of our worst political and economic problems. The idea of liberating the economy was right, but too often state-owned monopolies were simply transferred to private hands.
The noxious nexus of money and politics thus created gave us the twin plagues of the last 20 years: tycoons who owed their wealth to political influence and politicians who owed their careers to friendship with the wealthy.
There’s nothing wrong with wealth, in my book, if you come by it honestly and use it generously and responsibly. But the last two decades should make us wary of wealthy politicians.
So I want to see a one-apartment president. Dorner or Rivlin – I don’t care which. Rivlin’s from the right and Dorner has been embraced by Meretz on the left, but to me that’s an insignificant difference.
What matters more is what the numbers tell us: both have lived lives dedicated to public service; both could have upgraded their dwellings in the past 40 years if they’d wished to but didn’t; neither is interested in moving to Bet Hanassi for its palatial apartments.
Both have shown they would bring to the President’s House the values of simplicity, sincerity and service that built the State of Israel and which embody what is best about this country.