Sick of the Rot? It's Our Fault

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was grilled, perhaps, or gently questioned, perhaps, over the buy and sale of several houses, about political appointments at the Small Business Administratino, an about his invilvement in the sale of Bank Leumi. The accountant-general  at the treasury, Yaron Zelekha, is being accused by Olmert's cronies of acting at the behest of a political rival, Benjamin Netanyahu. The man looking into the complaints at the State Comptroller's office, Yakov Borovsky, is now under investigation himself, on suspicions that he proposed to associates of the former prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to appoint him commissioner of the police force, from which august position he would torpedo the investigation into Sharon's affairs.

Is there anybody at the uppermost echelon of the State of Israel who isn't under investigation for corruption, or at least suspected of it?

Senior policemen told Haaretz yesterday, after reported suspicions about the way Borovsky tried to advance his promotion as commissioner: "We weren't shocked." The appointment of a commissioner is political, they added. "He's chosen by the Internal Security minister and prime minister, and the cabinet ministers ratify the appointment. There's no doubt that all the candidates for the job sought channels to the politicians," they said.

In the State of Israel, we learn, even the highest ranks of the people enforcing the law know how it's done. Want to be a commissioner? Pull the strings, or forget it. True, string-pulling isn't exactly kosher, and that isn't how a commissioner should be selected, especially one whose job description will include investigating politicians. But in a state where this is how everything's done, even somebody wishing there was a better way has to go with the flow. In a country where the rule is to break the rules, even our top law enforcement officials do so.

That is of course the greatest danger in governmental impropriety: it feeds on itself. When impropriety is the rule, everybody is impelled to adopt it. Even the straightest of people have no choice but to adapt, because there's no other way to advance their interests. Impropriety becomes normative behavior. It becomes what is seemingly right.

And that is the danger that the State of Israel faces. Do not dismiss it. 

Anarchy in government is the greatest threat to democracy, because anarchy is almost always born of the craving for a "strong man" to clean up the mess, naturally at the expense of civil rights. Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, is a good example.

In the State of Israel's sorry condition, we cannot expect it to distance itself from the danger. Only we, the citizens, can make this danger disappear, by insisting on three principles:

* We must stop staying silent in the face of political corruption. Electing Ariel Sharon as prime minister despite the suspicions of corruption involving him and his family members delivered a message that corruption is okay in the view of the Israeli voter, as long as you're a politician who commands enough loyalty and affection.

* We must make reforming the structure of government top priority. A transparent, efficient government that is guided by stated plans and goals would be less vulnerable to corruption. Even if the system of government can't be changed, we can change the way government is run. That would be a giant step forward.

* We can demand more of ourselves. The Israeli government is no more corrupt than the people themselves. We all think it's okay to defraud the taxman. We all sin the sin of accepting services without demanding an invoice. Nobody really thinks there's anything wrong with diddling the National Insurance Institute to get more income supplements than we deserve. Obedience to law is not respected in Israel, nor is protecting the public treasury. We do everything possible to earn more at the expense of tax revenue and then wonder why the politicians we elect treat public money with the utmost contempt. The truth is, we deserve it.