Having lived in South Africa for most of the Nineties, I think I have an inkling of the panic that Oscar Pistorius says he felt when he believed that someone had broken into his home. Not that I buy his version – I don’t – but his explanation taps into a very rich vein in the South African psyche. Ably assisted by almost-comical police incompetence, it may well result in his getting away with what in Israel is called a targeted assassination.
I’ll never forget the feeling of helplessness when the alarm goes off in the middle of the night. Barricading the family behind locked doors or a security gate; prowling warily through dark rooms armed with whatever weapon came to hand (I owned neither a gun nor a cricket bat.) Speaking with the armed response guys through the burglar bars when they finally arrived on the scene. The memory of those nights alone is enough to keep me from returning to live in South Africa.
Many of the people I know in South Africa seem to handle that fear a lot better than I did. Ok, so I’m a coward. But not the only one, apparently. Oscar and I seem to have something in common, and for me, at least, his defense has a certain resonance.
That’s as far as it goes, however. There are not many other similarities between fat, sedentary old me and the cry-baby athlete from Pretoria. I may be paranoid, but when I hear someone in the toilet in the middle of the night I assume that it’s my wife or one of my kids. And that was also the case when I lived in South Africa. It simply wouldn’t occur to me that a burglar would lock himself in the toilet. Perhaps Oscar has better information than I have about the price that toilet paper fetches on the black market?
And even if I was convinced that there was a burglar in my can (imagine the killing he would make if he took the liquid soap and hand towel as well) I really don’t think I would shoot him four times through the door. That is not normal behavior – which may, in fact, be the point. I wouldn’t be surprised if Oscar’s bizarre excuse is transformed into a diminished responsibility defense over time. The poor spring chicken snapped under the pressures of fame and fortune.
What happened, in my view, is that Oscar simply got too big for his blades. He began to think of himself as an untouchable. He assumed that his status in the public eye relieved him of the drudgery of responsibility and social conventions. He got pissed off with his lady (and I would too, if my lady was playing silly buggers with a second-rate rugby hack like Francois Hougaard) and, being king of the universe, he imagined that he would get away with the unthinkable – and the tragedy is that he might.
Another exemplar of what one might call the Pistorius Principle – thinking that you’re better and can therefore get away with anything – is Israel. (You knew I’d get there sooner or later, didn’t you?) Like Oscar, Israel thinks it can do what it wants. It flouts diplomatic conventions, international law and its own laws with sublime indifference. It attacks its neighbors at will (Gaza, Lebanon, Syria), carries out assassinations wherever suits it (Dubai, Norway, Syria), sponsors terror activities in Iran, breaks international sanctions via straw companies, uses the passports of its allies in its illegal activities – the list is very long.
In pursuit of what it deems to be its own security, Israel recognizes no boundaries. Anything is acceptable and everyone is fair game. The latest, now-publicized victim of this homicidal hubris was Ben Zygier, an Australian-born Mossad operative who committed suicide in December 2010 while being held under a fictitious name in a high-security Israeli cell. There is a lot that we (the public) still don’t know about the Zygier Affair and much of what has been published in the media is probably disinformation. But one thing is clear: he fell afoul of a particularly remorseless and unaccountable security organization in a renegade country. His end was a death foretold. When you cut through all the Jewish schmaltz, you understand that Israel is just as callous to its own people as to its enemies.
That said, one Israeli seems to be discovering that even in Israel and even when you’re on the top of the heap, not everything is always possible. Benjamin Netanyahu is having a hard time putting together a coalition and is probably going to have to ask the president for more time. He set about the coalition negotiations confident that, as always, he would be able to make extravagant promises without intending to keep them and to create a bloated government at public expense to keep everyone happy with a cabinet seat. Confident, above all, that the hunger for power and perks that is in the DNA of every Israeli politician would eventually overcome any pretensions to principle and the common good.
It worked with Tipi Liivni, previously his most vociferous critic, who happily traded in her used principles for a 2013 model government ministry (Justice) and various other perks. But he seems to have hit an obstacle with the two other new parties, The Jewish Home and There is a Future. (This is not the time to dwell on why Israelis name their political parties the way they do.) Perhaps party leaders Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid are too green to understand that every Israeli politician eventually chooses patronage over principle? Or, more likely in my view, perhaps they smell blood? Netanyahu was badly weakened by the election and needs at least one of the two parties to establish a stable government. (The participation of the Labor Party would also enable him to form a government, but, after serving as a fig leaf for right-wing governments the last three decades, Labor seems determined to sit this one out.)
Bennett and Lapid understand Netanyahu’s weakness and have agreed to exploit it by sticking together – despite the considerable differences between them on a number of issues, including peace with the Palestinians. If they manage to retain that unified stance, Netanyahu will have three stark choices: make very painful policy compromises, establish a minority government of very limited shelf-life or return his mandate to the president. In the latter scenario the president will either ask someone else to form a government or call another election.
To entice Bennett and Lapid into his government, Netanyahu will have to break the historic precedent of religious participation in virtually every secular government. To entice Labor, he will have to accept widespread, socialist-oriented economic reforms. Both are anathema to him, but perhaps less so than entering another election campaign which, in his weakened state, he is likely to lose.
There are several more interesting weeks to come.