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Israel 2007 – Endemic Corruption?

14 January 2007

By Yisrael Ne’eman

We in Israel and the Jewish world need to face some very unpleasant facts about ourselves. Our present political leadership in the State of Israel appears to be almost hopelessly corrupt. All politics is known for its “wheeling and dealing” but Israel 2007 is slipping towards an abyss we never believed could exist in the Jewish national movement. Somehow we always “knew” of such behavior happening to other peoples, but never to ourselves. For a people who were to be “a light unto the nations” we are far from being a light unto ourselves.

So what went wrong? In a word – materialism and its negative exponential – greed. Spirituality may be sidelined but it is far from dead as it continues to reside within the hearts of many Jews. Unfortunately, increasing numbers are taking their cues from the political elite (or should it be “delete”). A philosophical material understanding of the world is not negative in its own right, both Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed that wealth accumulation, redistribution or whatever the major force in socio-economic development, whether it be capitalist or socialist was being done for the good of society. By taking either theory or a bit of both as the best economic model(s) for developing the secular states in our present “age of nationalism” the rising nations of the West and later elsewhere used these ideas as tools for the betterment and advancement of their peoples. Zionism did the same, whether it was the socialism of Ben Gurion and the Labor Zionists or the capitalism of Jabotinsky and the Revisionists (or even Weizmann’s general Zionists). Such theories were a means to an end in nation building and especially in the Jewish national cause when the Zionist movement collected persecuted Jewish communities from around the world, brought them back to the ancient homeland and built a modern nation state. It was a means to an end, the end always being what is best for the Jewish People.

Unfortunately, the means is now an end in itself as excessive material well being (gluttony) and political power become their own ends as they are narrowed down to the individual. Whether one is a socialist or capitalist is unimportant. The unity of purpose through the spiritual understanding – also known as “the spirit of the People” is forgotten when leaders seek their own personal well being along with that of their friends and family at the expense of the society they are elected to represent.

The revered Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook already during the Mandate Period had great doubts about political behavior when he wrote concerning the delay of the Jewish national redemption that “our soul was disgusted by the dreadful sins that go with political rule in evil times,” in reference to the 2000 year Jewish exile. He hoped for a time of purity and holiness for then the Jewish People would achieve redemption. He lived to see the evils perpetrated by both communism and fascism in their initial stages.

Those who are greedy need to be in power to satisfy their appetites and conveniently forget there is a Jewish People out there, their only worry being how to jockey for power and win the next election. Those involved in long term planning are not in politics, such as the water (Mekorot), electric companies or best yet, the Jewish National Fund. Unfortunately, here too some are earning exorbitant salaries at public expense.

Just to recap a bit. The president, Moshe Katzav is facing criminal charges for sexual misconduct and possibly rape, the PM Ehud Olmert is being investigated for quasi-legal land deals, bribe taking and illegal appointments to civil service posts and just this past week the Finance Minister Avraham Hirshzon is being accused of financial irregularities when he headed the National Labor Union (Likud) faction. Although not charged with any crime, the Defense Minister and former labor union boss Amir Peretz has been known to sign up massive numbers of new members to the Labor party just before the primaries to ensure his own victory. It is true he was not the only one, but that does not justify such behavior. In the background is the jail sentence to be served by Omri Sharon for election fraud and illegal fundraising done for his father Ariel Sharon in his bid to win the Likud party leadership in 1999. Enter former PM Ehud Barak who wants a shot at the Labor Party top spot in the upcoming May primaries. He was notorious for developing non-profit organizations for campaign fundraising, giving them fictitious charters and breaking the election rules, at least in spirit. These are just the well known stories.

Now we have a major investigation into the Tax & Customs Service where political appointees and high powered businessmen appear to have orchestrated a partial takeover of the state revenue service. The police are still investigating. Those involved were all from the Likud at one point or another, whether they are in Kadima today, such as PM Olmert, who is considered by many to be among the most corrupt politicians in the country or if they remained in the Likud, like those supporters of former foreign minister Sylvan Shalom and the deceased minister Yitzhak Moda’i. Eitan Rob and Jackie Matza are the new superstars in the deepening morass. In short, the Likud (and Kadima of today) central committee captured much of Israel’s civil service. Only recently have political appointees to civil service jobs come under judicial scrutiny. Better a late investigation than none at all.

As Moshe Gorali pointed out in this week’s Ma’ariv weekend magazine, corruption in the civil service is more dangerous than on the political level. Here it becomes endemic and the entire system breaks down. Politicians can more easily be replaced; a civil service suffering from criminal rot brings down the entire infrastructure, meaning the state itself.

Never has the country faced such a sickening array of scandals and abuse of power. Should it become an existential threat to the State of Israel, it may very well be life threatening to the Jewish People since a strong state entity is the best insurance for the continuation of the nation. So where did it all start?

Most likely with the education system and the values projected by those in leadership positions - twenty, thirty and forty years ago. In the main, both parents and the school system forgot to teach our children the essence of Jewish being and why we are here in the Land of Israel. Too many people got sidelined chasing after money and power. Those children grew up and became our political leadership.