In the early 1990s I had the good fortune to accompany an Atlanta-based group called the Friendship Force, founded by Presbyterian minister Wayne Smith and then (that is, at the time of its founding) Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, on a trip to Jerusalem.
The Friendship Force organized home stays, pairing, say, people in Atlanta, Georgia with people in Tbilisi, Georgia, to promote cross-cultural familiarity and understanding.
The idea behind that particular trip was for American Jews, Palestinians and others (like me), to stay in one another’s homes, with the aim of extending cultural understanding across religions just a little bit, day by day, step by step.
With much less background out in the world at that younger age, I sat astonished with, I think, everybody else in our well-meaning little peacenik assembly, when a young Likud parliamentarian, fluent in English from his high school in Pennsylvania and later MIT, bounded up to the podium to caution us on trusting those damned Palestinians, whose Green Line was within nine miles of the Mediterranean Sea at the closest point, and who had designs on it all!
Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks were perhaps not the most appropriate welcome to our particular group.
The Prime Minister has been a public figure since that day, more than twenty-five years now, much of an adult life. And now we read today (New York Times):
“The Israeli police recommended on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, casting a pall over the future of a tenacious leader who has become almost synonymous with his country. The announcement instantly raised doubts about his ability to stay in office.”
This thing and others like it have been dogging the Prime Minister and his family for years:
“The Netanyahus have long occupied pride of place in this crowded field of wealth-seekers. In 1994, a Jerusalem paper wrote about the family’s penchant for dining and dashing. Their appetites grew after Netanyahu became prime minister for a second time in 2009: a $2,500 contract for gourmet ice cream at their official residence, and a $127,000 bed installed on a government plane so they could nap on the five-hour flight to London. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, has been investigated for stealing patio furniture, and his son, Yair, for accepting free Mariah Carey tickets. None of this seemed to put a dent in the Netanyahu family’s political fortunes. But it all made for good headlines.”
I wonder if all this time ought to be enough for any one person to be in proximity to power, particularly in a small and tightly-knit land like Israel, but maybe, anywhere at all.