Current cleansing of stables provides hope that genuine governance, financial transparency will dominate public and private sector
Over the past year we truly began to feel as though we were turning into a banana republic. The stench of corruption became all encompassing. Instead of being “or lagoyim” – a light unto the nations – we drowned in a swamp of moral turpitude.
Each time we hoped we had reached rock bottom, yet another series of scandals erupted. Yet another layer of sleaze was exposed. Corruption invaded every aspect of our lives – government, civil service, and business. Our degraded and failed leaders turned a blind eye to ethical norms and decency in the selfish pursuit of their personal interests. Their corrupt behavior undoubtedly contributed to the debacles and bungles we experienced during the Lebanon war. This cesspool of moral degeneracy climaxed with the charges leveled against the president and his alarming response to the nation. What message are we conveying to the world when the man who should symbolize the positive attributes of the Jewish people is accused of sexual misdemeanors, rape and breach of trust? As if this were not enough, even our prime minister is undergoing criminal investigation on a variety of issues. And of course this doesn’t take into account other cabinet ministers under investigation, or the head and senior echelons of the Tax Authority who were charged with accepting bribes and indulging in fraudulent activities. Not to mention the prime minister’s bureau chief who was placed under house arrest.
The final straw
The final straw was the conviction of Haim Ramon, the former justice minister, on charges of indecent behavior. Many Israelis believe that it was the cover up more than the kiss that led to his downfall. Had Ramon apologized for having behaved improperly instead of behaving arrogantly and trying to justify his behavior, the verdict may have been different. But the importance of the Ramon conviction is that it conveys a signal that in this climate, new norms have been established. Judges are now becoming extraordinarily tough when confronted by public figures or leaders who indulged in improprieties or behaved in a corrupt manner.
Despite, and perhaps in view of the daily exposures of corrupt politicians and officials, we can take pride in the knowledge that now, no one, not even the highest ranking figures in Israel, would be exempt from exposure and prosecution. Many Knesset members and senior officials are undoubtedly trembling that skeletons in their own closet may now be unearthed. In the past, the police would never have dared confront presidents, prime ministers, and other senior Israeli personalities with the uninhibited aggressiveness recently displayed. Indeed, there is even criticism that our police are now erring by going to extremes, failing to take into account the need to ensure that the presumption of innocence applies to the rich and powerful as well as to common citizens. They must be reminded that leaking information to the media is a serious breach of trust and responsibility and can result in tarnishing the reputation of innocent persons. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz should make it clear that he would take harsh disciplinary action to prevent such leaks in the future.
But setting that aside, the stables are at last being cleaned up and there is now light at the end of the tunnel. If this wave of popular outrage is sustained, people power will continue making its impact felt. There are grounds to believe that we may well be on the verge of dramatic change. A genuine end to the era of corruption may well be in the offing.
Indeed, once the current dysfunctional government goes – and that can only be a matter of time – whoever emerges as the leader of the new government will be under enormous pressure to mark the elimination of public corruption as one of his primary objectives. Those of us who were becoming highly concerned about the future of democracy in this country can now be reassured. If Israel was indeed an irredeemably corrupt state, senior government figures and society would not currently be undergoing vigorous investigation and being indicted. This could not happen in any other Middle Eastern country. In fact many would-be reformers in advanced Western democracies are probably watching with envy as leader after leader is ruthlessly prosecuted for what was previously dismissed as minor breaches of the law, not warranting prosecution. It provides real hope that in the future, genuine governance and financial transparency will dominate the public and private sectors and Israel will become the Jewish democratic state that the Zionist founders visualized and that the vast majority of Israelis always sought.
It remains our responsibility as citizens to keep the pressure on and to insist that the rule of law continue to be rigorously and mercilessly enforced.
The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is a veteran international Jewish leader. [email protected]