Comptroller Catches the Small Fish While Swimming With the Whales

Joseph Shapira's report, which implicates MK Oren Hazan in illegality, only proves how weak and shameless the institution of the comptroller really is.

Emil Salman

There's no reason to applaud Wednesday's State Comptroller report on spending by Knesset candidates prior to the elections last March.

If the fattest fish that Comptroller Joseph Shapira could catch is Knesset member Oren Hazan (Likud,) his report is simply additional testimony to the weakness of the current holder of the comptroller's office.

The report shows how brave Shapira is when dealing with the weak; how he is willing to expose – and capable of exposing – only what is lying right in front of him – only what will please those who appointed him.

A week ago, it became known (in an article by Sharon Pulwer) that Shapira had given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau yet another extension of his obligation to respond to the comptroller's draft report on the "Bibi Tours" affair.

It was the third extension granted by the comptroller in connection with a report dealing with Netanyahu's foreign travel while foreign minister under Ariel Sharon – in other words, 11 or 12 years ago. The investigation itself began four years ago, which would be more than enough time, if it wasn't for such a meticulous and shameless master of the white-wash.

Even if the report on Netanyahu's travel, when it is finally published, is sharp and categorical, it will have no effect due to the passage of time.

The most recent extension joins a chain of gestures that Shapira has made to the man he is meant to be auditing – from the replacement of the Bibi Tours head investigator, who he suspected of illegalities, to his attempt to freeze the report on exaggerated spending in the Netanyahu residences until after the elections last March.

Ever since assuming the office of comptroller, Shapira has labored diligently to protect the man who chose him for the job – though not before going through an audition at the official residence in Balfour Street and giving more and more rope to David Shimron, the Netanyahu family lawyer, who was one of Shapira's lobbyists for the exalted position.

Netanyahu could not have asked for a more benign and obliging comptroller. If duplicating Shapira was possible, Netanyahu would probably like to clone Shapira for the position of attorney general, which will soon be available.

Neither of Shapira's immediate predecessors, justices Eliezer Goldberg and Micah Lindenstrauss, hesitated to confront prime ministers and publish harsh but timely reports about them – some of which were converted into police investigations and indictments over time. In serving those who chose him, Shapira is a flak jacket for the prime minister and his inner circle.

For all the above reasons, the information published in the comptroller's report on Wednesday, according to which Hazan signed a false deposition – a criminal act with a prison sentence on the side – does not prove that Shapira is serving his purpose.

Justice is not being done here, just the illusion of justice; the appearance of a fight against corruption. It is a pretense of treating those who wield power fearlessly and impartially.

When an enforcement or auditing agency, which is meant to restrain power and maintain good governance and clean hands, ingratiates itself with the whales and only deals with the small fish, it can't be trusted or taken seriously.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Shapira was chosen for the position of comptroller with the encouragement of well-connected lawyer friends from Jerusalem. They knew what they were doing.

Since then, the institution of comptroller appears to have lost the influence it previously had as regards restraining corruption and auditing powerbrokers.

We can hope that the revelation about Oren Hazan will rid our lives of that damaging and embarrassing parliamentary hazard (Netanyahu, too, will breathe a sigh of relief, no doubt,) but we shouldn't allow that to blur the piercing truth about what is going on in the office of the State Comptroller.