On Cushy Jobs and Political Power

To insure a proper investigation, free of fear and prejudice, it must be established clearly that Hanegbi will not return to the Public Security Ministry, no matter what the findings. Otherwise his suspension means nothing.

Tzachi Hanegbi's decision to suspend himself from the Ministry of Public Security reminds me of the joke about the party hack who died in Milwaukee but specified in his will that he wanted be buried in Chicago so he could continue his political activity.

Asking to be suspended from the ministry charged with investigating his case would appear at first glance to be the right thing to do. But on second glance it looks more like a cynical joke. Because suspension is a temporary measure: If he is acquitted of wrongdoing, he will return to his job as big boss of the police department, calling to mind Arnold Schwarzenegger's ominous refrain - "I'll be back."

To insure a proper investigation, free of fear and prejudice, it must be established clearly that Hanegbi will not return, no matter what the findings. Otherwise his suspension means nothing. Those who are afraid to investigate him while he's in office will still quake in their boots because he could be back to settle the score.

The state comptroller's evaluation of Hanegbi's character and deeds pretty much tops anything that has been said about a minister in the State of Israel. As the minister in charge of the law enforcement system, he is accused of trampling the law with impunity and riding roughshod over proper administrative practice; of using public resources to advance his political and private interests; of milking the public coffers to grease the palms of political sympathizers.

"Jobs were created for the sole purpose of doling out favors to party members or their kin," wrote the comptroller. "Sums of money, sometimes quite large, were handed over for doing nothing, and fictitious salaries were paid to people who rendered no services."

These accusations, harsher in tone than we are used to from the state comptroller, show how seriously he takes this matter of Hanegbi turning the Environment Ministry into his private arena. Anyone who thinks that the link between capital and political power is the worst possible thing for proper government will soon see that the link between cushy jobs and power is even more widespread, more insidious and more difficult to expose. Worst of all, the civil service becomes inflated with shady characters who are not qualified for the job.

They say it all began in Mapai, where, according to the famous joke, appointments were made by passing around little coded notes. But that's not exactly so. In the early years of the state, Bolshevik-style cronyism was a way of life. If the civil service hired only people with the right connections, it wasn't for the purpose of buying power. It was because of the long-standing political animosity toward Etzel and Lehi, and a paranoid fear that the Revisionists and Herut would take over the country.

Only at a much later stage, when the ostracism of Herut (Gahal) ended during the Six-Day War, and a dyadic war erupted in the Labor party, did real corruption begin to spread. As it branched out, a prime minister was forced to resign for holding an overseas bank account, a minister and a banker committed suicide, and a few big businessmen and political leaders were tried and sent to jail. The slogan "Do or die, get rid of Mapai" ushered the Likud into power.

Collective memory can be misleading. The protest chant "Out, out, damn corruption" was born in 1990, after the unity government broke up. It was directed at both parties - Likud and Labor. It was this slogan that begot the Direct Election Law, and then the primaries, bigger party forums and the pathogenic need to drum up votes from here and there and everywhere, from tribal clans to shady vote contractors, with a price tag affixed to each one.

Hanegbi didn't invent the technique. The Sharons have been there, too. He just refined it. The difference between political appointments paid for by the citizen and buying votes is close to zero. The state comptroller has his eye on a whole line of ministers who have developed their own tricks for repaying those who bring them votes.

The Goldberg report is a watershed for the Likud. Israel's ruling party has reached the point where it has lost all shame and its rotten ways have veered out of the control. This is a trend that must be pulled out by the roots. Otherwise the Likud will end up like Mapai in 1977, out on the street because of graft at the top.