Of Virtue and Vice

Shame. This is the feeling that has been shaping my state of mind over the past few weeks. Complete and utter shame.

Shame because of the little details that we learned about the life of Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu. Shame because of the obsessive reporting about Mrs. Netanyahu’s dirty underwear. Shame because of the low level of public discourse before the elections. Shame because it seems that our politicians believe us stupid and simple enough to feed us with this smut. But mainly, I feel shame because I know the left has missed its chance to offer a viable alternative to the right who are currently posed to continue their extreme rule in Israel.

Don’t get me wrong. The details revealed yesterday in Israel’s State Comptroller’s report on the expenditures of Israel’s royal couple are disgusting and mostly embarrassing. They show excessive and improper behavior, highlight excessive spending on food, cleaning and clothing among other areas, and also substantiate the claim that budgetary practices have not been carried out with integrity and transparency. But perhaps the biggest surprise in the report was that there were no surprises. There was no proof of crimes committed, no grand thefts or cases of embezzlement. Excessive spending yes, foul play no.

Some puritans believe that politicians need to be squeaky clean. I for one, am pleased to make do with a politician who does not take bribes and mostly tells the truth. Those are my minimum requirements. Things have changed since Confucius, and virtue alone does not guarantee a successful career as a politician. Being a politician these days means accepting donations from suspicious donors behind closed – and sometime open – doors. It means managing dirty campaigns against opponents. It means making deals with lobbies and making impossible promises to voters.

No. The Prime Minister does not have to be the perfect role model. All claims to the contrary are hypocritical and opportunistic.

But a Prime Minister must know how to lead. He must know how to make decisions. He must know how to take responsibility for his mistakes. He must do his best to better the condition of the people who voted him into office, and not worsen it. And yes, even if this means making difficult decisions. He must look into our eyes and give us the truth as he sees it. He cannot preach one thing, and then practice the complete opposite. He must have a vision for the future, and the willingness and courage to steer towards it. Sitting upon the throne and surviving is not a policy. It’s cowardice and poor governance.

This is where Netanyahu has failed, and this is where he must be accountable. Not for not knowing how to manage his household, but for not knowing how to manage the country.

And this is also where the left has failed miserably. Instead of attacking Netanyahu for the ever-rising cost of living, for the terrible state of relations with the U.S., for the stalemate in talks with the Palestinians, for the poor state of the health system, for the growing disparity in Israeli society – the left, by gladly jumping on the bandwagon, helped divert attention from these core issues to the mundane topic of water bills and makeup spending.

The left has failed, and we will all pay the price – the price of another rightist government leading an extreme, separatist, and fascist agenda. Indeed, the only option for salvation is making sure Netanyahu’s next coalition does not include Bennett’s gang of crazies. The left and center parties would do well to start making plans for negotiating a deal with King Bibi once he sits upon the throne once again.

Virtue is more to man than either water or fire. I have seen men die from treading on water and fire, but I have never seen a man die from treading the course of virtue (Confucius Analects, CHAP. XXXIV).

Chi K’ang asked how to cause the people to reverence their ruler, to be faithful to him and to go on to nerve themselves to virtue. The Master said, “Let him preside over them with gravity; then they will reverence him. Let him be final and kind to all; then they will be faithful to him. Let him advance the good and teach the incompetent; then they will eagerly seek to be virtuous.” (Confucius Analects, CHAP. XX.)

Chi Wan thought thrice before taking action. When the Master was informed of it, he said, “Twice will do.” (Confucius Analects, CHAP. XIX)





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