Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Nation of Cynics

Two very different men jumped into the political arena last week: Noam Shalit, the engineer from the north and the father of Gilad Shalit and Yair Lapid, the TV and newspaper personality and son of the late Tommy Lapid, TV and newspaper personality, Knesset member, and government minister.

I was surprised to see that the reaction to their announcements was very similar. Cynicism. A knee-jerk reaction that these to must be joining the political game for personal gain. That they couldn't possibly be doing what they're doing for, let's not say 'pure,' but at least untainted reasons. I found these attitudes to be widespread, in the media, among friends and family, almost everywhere.

It's hardly surprising. We live in a place that seems to feed cynicism and feed from it. A long line of politicians have shown us that we have plenty of reasons to suspect their motives. This applies to politicians from all sorts of parties and not just recently but for a very long time. I'm sure that among our Knesset members there are some that truly think of themselves as public servants; it's just hard to see them. They are buried under the mountain of cheap political operatives whose main driving philosophy is "what's in it for me?" It is these same operatives that benefit from feeding the cynical wave. If everyone is just looking out for him or herself, goes the logic, then there's little sense in exchanging one bum for another.  Shalit and Lapid however, appear to be pols of a different sort and that should worry the entrenched interests. 

Yair Lapid
Consider Lapid's case. Lapid's entry into politics is a good example of an argument against self-interest. It's hard to see how getting elected to the Knesset, even if he makes it there as the head of a largish party, and even if he's named senior minister in the next government, will benefit him. Certainly not financially. Knesset members and ministers make good money, but not when compared to the kind of money that Lapid made until last week as a news anchor (not to mention the income from his regular column in a major newspaper and his very many speaking engagements). The bottom line is that he'll be taking a large cut to his bottom line. So it must be power, right? That's what must be driving him. Well, maybe. To some degree. Even if he's named minister of something relevant (and quite a few of the current batch of "ministers" don't really have enough to do to fill up their days), it'll take time and a lot of effort to make changes, so I don't see how that can be perceived as being any more fun or more fulfilling than his current positions, where he enjoys a great deal of influence and doesn't have to deal with the very dirty business of politics.

Noam Shalit, in a quieter moment
Shalit's case is different, of course. Noam Shalit's job for the last five years was getting his son released from his Hammas kidnappers. He did this by putting pressure on the politicians to do their job. In the process he built an organization that mobilized a huge chunk of the country. Five years later and after bringing Gilad home he must have looked in the mirror and seen a changed man, how could he not. As it happens, Sweetie knows Shalit slightly, having volunteered extensively for the Gilad campaign. She confirmed my earlier intuition, that whatever faults Shalit might have, cynical self-interest is not one of them. I'll bet pounds to pennies that Shalit truly sees public service as a way of giving back. 

Shalit is running within the Labor Party, so I wouldn't vote for him for all the tea in China, but that's because the Labor Party is a dud. Stupid choice of party for him, but not a cynical one, not by a long shot. I've read in quite a few articles that his running for office is an abuse of his notoriety (this one's a good example). Really? I wonder how these writers would feel if Shalit had picked a party that they themselves favor. Food for thought.

Which brings another thought to mind. If Bibi was expecting for Shalit to exhibit some sort of misplaced loyalty and support him in the next elections, he must be sorely disappointed. 

Bibi's future?
And speaking of Bibi (I can't seem to write a single column that ignores him), he reacted to the news of Lapid's entry into politics by being dismissive and derisive in what was clearly an attempt to hide how distraught he really was. Bibi would like nothing better than to make us all believe that Lapid is just as cynical, just as manipulative, just as self-interested as he himself is. Because if we take Lapid at his word, then Bibi is toast.

Two quotes to wrap things up:

Cynicism is the intellectual cripple's substitute for intelligence.
Factionalism is the abiding human need to create group conflicts based on religion, politics, race, gender, class 
or whether toilet paper should be pulled over or under the roll.
from The Cynic's Dictionary


  1. It's nice to see a little bit of idealism from a nonbeliever.

  2. How would you know I'm a non-believer? Just asking.

  3. Very well stated and the same type of cynicism is alive and well here in the states.