Monday, September 1, 2008

An Appreciation for Begin's Modesty

When did the rot set in?


It's hard to feel sorry for Ehud Barak, forced out of his 370 square meter apartment on the 31st floor of the Akirov Towers in Tel Aviv. Barak has apparently realized that a more modest address, less identified with the very pinnacle of the Israeli business elite, would perhaps be more suitable for someone who aspires to the premiership as head of the Labor Party.

But showing some of the business acumen that helped him make his fortune so quickly after leaving public office, Barak is not prepared to move out cheaply - according to some newspaper reports he has set a price of around $11 million for the apartment which he bought for $2.5 million at the end of 2006. In comparison, Yitzhak Rabin's former duplex, also in a ritzy Tel Aviv neighborhood, was recently sold but reportedly for a much more modest price - NIS 4 million, a 10th of what Barak is asking for.

And a more telling comparison can be found in the excellent Menachem Begin Heritage Center museum in Jerusalem. There you can find a reconstruction of Begin's apartment at 1 Rehov Rosenbaum in Tel Aviv, his private residence until he became prime minister in 1977. The simply furnished living room is exactly like the living rooms of other lower middle-class Israelis of that period, who made do with very little. There is no room there for the grand piano so beloved of Barak. Begin, despite being the most grandiose and theatrical of politicians, lived a spartan way of life and handed this down to his children. His son Benny, a Jerusalemite, was famous when a Knesset member for taking the bus to the Knesset rather than using his MK's car.

Begin's successor, Yitzhak Shamir, as befits another former member of the Jewish underground, also lived modestly. His son Yair, the successful hi-tech entrepreneur, said that his father was disappointed in him when he decided to leave the air force, where he had been a successful career officer, in favor of the business world. Shamir senior was troubled by the thought, Yair said, that his son was giving up a job in which the security of the state was paramount in return for one where money became the prime object.
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