Tuesday, April 1, 2014
EHUD, ARNOLD AND MY PICTURE GALLERY
Yesterday was a good day for justice in Israel, although it was the final blow to my admittedly anemic celebrity picture gala. I'll sacrifice for a good cause, and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's conviction and hopeful exit from the public stage is a very good cause indeed.
I was involved in California politics for 30-plus years. Virtually everyone with that kind of a record (yes, some would argue, sentence) has walls full of pictures of them with a panoply of politicians, officials, sports heroes, and Hollywood stars or wanna-be stars that the person met along the trails.
Not me. For whatever reason, that picture gallery decorating approach never appealed to me. My offices had pictures of sailboats, mountains, and kids. The stars were ones I never met: Koufax, Drysdale, a circa 1920 Fenway shot. I did have one of those famous pictures of the Big Three, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, at one of those once far-off locations that we only knew about because of 10th grade world history.
That was it. My gallery consisted of my kids, inanimate objects, and mostly real famous dead guys. Except for one. I once accompanied the CEO of a client, a California start-up, to a conference featuring then Trade and Industry Minister Olmert and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The CEO, his wife, me, and one or two others had a picture taken with the Minister and the Governor. All smiles and happiness.
Even I, disinclined as I was to clutter the office with smiling pretend best friends, could not resist hanging a picture of me hanging with the celebrity action-hero governor of the biggest state in the Union and a future PM of The Promised Land. What could top that? A picture with Ben-Gurion? Lady Gaga?
As we were arranging for the framing of the picture, it just seemed like the CEO, his wife, and the one or two others were cluttering things up, distracting from the real focus of the picture, extraneous. My wife or the framer (not me!) suggested a little clip job was in order.
It made for a clearer, less cluttered, picture, particularly for when clients or politicos visited the office. There I was schmoozing with the by-that-time PM of Israel and California's action-hero, body-carved governor. Married to a Kennedy, no less. Pretty cool.
Yes, it was a little awkward when the CEO stopped by one day and noticed that he and his wife had been excised out. But, other than that momentary discomfort, it was a terrific statement that I hang with the cool and powerful guys.
Then, it turned out that the action-hero governor perhaps was not quite the same go-to, super-reliable, man of steel in real-life governance as he was on the big screen. A lot of people began to feel that, perhaps, he was a bit superficial.
I began to feel that perhaps he got confused at times between real-life and his fantasy world of action-hero omnipotence. Nothing worth taking out the scissors for, but not the grand trophy I once had hanging.
Then, at the end of his governorship, Schwarzenegger disclosed that he had fathered a child with his family's maid prior to running for Governor. The celebrity picture-man lived a big lie.
He lied to his wife, his kids, and the citizens of California who had accepted, or at least pretended to believe, or at least decided to overlook, all of the rumors and allegations of philandering and harassment from all of the years on the movie sets. That was a different time, a different character. He's a good guy who is going to make California better.
Well, it turned out not to be so. Turned out, this being American and not French politics, that he was a cheating, lying low-life. And he seemed to be almost proud of it. He seemed compelled to write a book recounting his escapades.
This did call for the scissors. I never did get them out of the drawer, but the picture never quite seemed the same. There was always a big asterisk hanging over it.
In the meantime, across the globe, the allegations about PM Olmert just kept piling up. I believe in the presumption of innocence as much as, probably a lot more, than the average guy.
But Olmert had more incidents, gates, and escapades than Bonnie and Clyde. There's travel. There's real estate. There's campaign contributions. There's. . . well, there's just about everything.
The former PM, with much talent and ability, just could not seem to resist involving himself in every shady practice and deed that is offered up to people in public life. How he kept track of everything is a wonder to mere mortals like me.
But with all the accusations, all the sleaze, Olmert just had a way to keep on going. He could explain away just about anything. He had a personal assistant that seemed, until recently, to take loyalty to absurd degrees.
He seemed destined to hear "not guilty" despite the fact that just about everyone on earth understood that he was guilty, if not under the standards of a court of law, then most certainly under the standards of life. It seemed like he bathed in Teflon.
He not only kept going all over Israel, he had the confidence, the nerve, the bad taste, to slink over to New York, presumably pick up some giant-size speaking fees, and slam the current PM of Israel.
What a difference 30, 40, 50 years make. Earlier generations of Israeli prime ministers, Ben-Gurion, Eshkol, Meir, Begin, Shamir, led modest lives. They didn't seem to feel that Israeli politics gave one a ticket to take advantage, to capitalize, to break every rule, to take, and to take more.
Despite tremendous, sometimes vicious ideological differences, those PM's of earlier times would rather have died than to have gone abroad and publicly undermined the position of the then-sitting government of Israel.
Olmert had absolutely none of the ethical, decent impulses that seemed to guide the lives of the prime ministers of prior years. Calling him a "bad apple" gives apples a bad name.
So, the star feature, really the only member, of my celebrity picture gallery is finished, kaput. Take out the scissors? Nah. With Arnold out and the PM excised, what's left? Me. The CEO of the client should be having a good, serves-him-right laugh. So, no scissors. Just a drawer.
But, if my nascent celebrity picture gallery is buried and gone, it is worth the sacrifice. It is good to see justice done and, hopefully, a mouth shut.
(Originally published in The Times of Israel.)
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