Ex-MK agrees to head jubilee effort `because I’m crazy’

Friday, December 12, 1997 | by

HELEN KAYE



Showing the letter is Moda'i's partial answer to the question of why he took the job. He adds his own comment: "Because I'm crazy."

Moda'i has about six months to pull together a program that should have started at least three years ago, but didn't. The program was launched with media fanfare last June only to dissolve three months later amid accusations and recriminations and the resignations of everyone tied to the jubilee management: producers Haim Slutski and Yossi Peled, preceded by Tourism Minister Moshe Katsav in his function as the government's facilitator of the jubilee.

Katsav has rescinded his resignation, but the infighting and lack of planning prompted State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat to convene a special session to decide whether there is room for an official investigation.

Yes, it could be said that Moda'i was reasonably crazy to take on what looked—and still looks—like a surefire loser.

Sitting at his uncluttered desk on the top floor of Jerusalem's Jewish Agency building, Moda'i smiles ironically. "I know there'll be criticism even if I succeed beyond all expectations, which I probably will not, so I hereby let the media know that it can sharpen its pencils and clear its throat."

Moda'i's initial proposals for the jubilee year have included offering free transportation on Independence Day, renewed negotiations with Syria and a new coin. His idea to implement a "broad amnesty" set off a storm of controversy.

The president, justice minister and State Attorney's Office all opposed a special amnesty to celebrate the country's jubilee.

In a recent interview with the Jerusalem weekly Yerushalayim, Moda'i clarified that he was not referring to a general amnesty, which would require special legislation, and certainly not an amnesty for people who may have been indicted but not yet convicted.

But Moda'i remains passionate about the issue. "Amnesty is even more important than the celebrations," he says, "even if only four additional people are pardoned during the year."

Moda'i concedes that Israelis today are not exactly in a celebratory mood. But he says he is committed to trying to give the nation the feeling that a jubilee is taking place.

"A jubilee," he told the Jerusalem Post, "is very special in the life of a people and a nation. But for us, especially, it is a year of reorganization and renewal for the country."

Asked whether he thinks Israel is better off today than it was 50 years ago, Moda'i hesitates a moment. "In real terms Israel is a phenomenon. To build an advanced state on a bit of desert is a miracle by any standards.

"Spiritually, we have a gap between hope and reality," he continues. "And the more our hopes are inflated regarding such things as peace, security and living standards, the greater the gap."

Unofficially, the jubilee will begin with the first light of Chanukah at the president's residence and around the world on Dec. 23.

Officially, the jubilee year starts on Independence Day, May 1, although there is no event scheduled for that day.

The program includes the three big events that were then approved by the government in June: the Israel Defense Force spectacular at the Ramat Gan Stadium, the prime minister's economic convention and the countrywide exhibition of Israel's achievements. The celebration ends Dec. 24, 1998 with a TV documentary of the year's jubilee events.

Moda'i stresses that the jubilee is for all the country's citizens. To this end he has organized a two-day Arab-Jewish encounter at Kibbutz Ginossar on the Kinneret next June as well as an event for the Circassian, Druze and Bedouin communities, "who are very definitely Israeli."

Other major events include an April international chess tournament with Garry Kasparov, a jubilee rally in April and a jubilee march in May—both to be held in Jerusalem—and a sound-and-light show.

Each of the 13 staff members in Moda'i's office is responsible for one particular aspect of the jubilee, but the buck stops at Modai's desk. Moda'i insisted on sole authority as jubilee chairman, and insists that, if the project fails, it will be his sole responsibility as well.

The public career of Moda'i, who was born 71 years ago in Tel Aviv, has included the chairmanship of the Liberal party, serving as a Knesset member from 1973 to 1977, and holding four ministerial portfolios from 1977 to 1992. He was minister of finance twice. Today he heads his own investment firm, a job he reluctantly put aside in order to take on the jubilee.

So to return to the first question: Why did he take the job?

"I got a lot of pressure from everybody," he says, "from the prime minister on down. `The situation is critical,' they told me. Well, the patient is still on the critical list, but at least he's stable."