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Salt Of The Earth No More

I am still appalled by something to which I've grown accustomed: the ethical laxity of the Israeli political class.

It actually started with Yitzhak Rabin or, more precisely, with Mrs. Rabin.

But, before that, Israeli politicians and exemplary Israeli prime ministers were more like ascetics than big spenders or big takers.

David Ben Gurion was a true agrarian socialist. He did accumulate books that amounted to a scholarly library. But, otherwise, he lived with his plainish wife, Paula, on a kibbutz in the Negev, Sde Boker, and died with almost no tangible assets.

Moshe Sharett was the first foreign minister and was prime minister between BG's terms. An early dove, he shunned luxury and was rather puritanical.

Levi Eshkol was a finance minister and understood the penury of the early State. He lived his own life penuriously, as well. A friend of mine who knew his circumstances says Eshkol died leaving about $1000 in the bank.

Yigal Allon was prime minister only for a month. But he was a member of Kibbutz Ginosar, right below the Golan Heights, and he gave all his earnings to it. He and I were friends. When I would come to meet him, our rendezvous started at his assigned workplace at a machine in a kibbutz shop. His Allon Plan for a settlement with the Palestinians still seems to me to be the most reasonable of all that have been proposed. Before the state was established, he was commander of the Palmach, a defiant and brave strike force.

Golda Meir had nothing but her very modest house (with the famous small kitchen where she served nicely brewed tea and stale cookies) and her classical records. Her royalties, not that big, went to her children.

Menachem Begin lived in something near to poverty, that is, his sparse parliamentary salary, plus a bit more when he was prime minister. When Michael Walzer, Henry Rosovsky, David Landes and I went to visit him at his home in 1970, he was still living in the three room "English basement" apartment in which he had hidden for years from the British before the establishment of the state,

Israel's leaders no longer live like that. Not at all, as Yossi Klein Halevi wrote yesterday in his TNR web piece.

But how you react depends on where you live. The Arabs find the harsh reactions from Israel and Israeli law to even minor corruptions and other transgressions stunning.

Khaled Abu Toameh's dispatch in Friday's Jerusalem Post reports on how many Arabs respect the country they despise.