Have No Fear, My Servant Yosef

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira's master's degree in criminology should serve him well. A country where criminals are involved in politics is a good place for the new comptroller to start.

Unlike with the election of the pope, there were no huge crowds of believers standing in the Knesset plaza during the election of the state comptroller. Nor was there a chimney that emitted white smoke when Israel's eighth state comptroller, Yosef Shapira, was chosen after three tense rounds of voting (which proves he was not the first choice ) when the prime minister supported him in the third round.

As opposed to the pope, whose position is for life, the comptroller is elected for seven years, but that's enough time to continue and even intensify the struggle against the forces of evil that are trying to limit his power and appoint a comptroller who won't be too tough and independent.

Yosef Shapira seems to be a calm, pleasant man, with glasses that slide down his nose and a well-kempt little beard. He doesn't looks like a publicity hound who is full of himself. But when Micha Lindenstrauss was elected, he didn't look like a macho type or a Superman either. Nobody dreamed that he would strike fear into the political establishment.

In America, where judges are moderated by the political system, there is a saying to the effect that "where you stand depends on where you sit." The fact that Shapira's resume includes a master's degree in criminology already gives him an advantage over the man he is replacing. A country where criminals are involved in politics is a good place for the new comptroller to start.

The state has come a long way since Levi Eshkol, the Jewish Agency treasurer, finance minister and prime minister who slipped by citing a verse that implied understanding for corruption, in his famous statement: "Don't muzzle an ox that is threshing." Eshkol's "ruling" came in the wake of a harshly critical report by the Jewish Agency comptroller in the 1950s, Dr. Emil Shmorak, whose publication the Jewish Agency leadership wanted to shelve with the excuse that they didn't want to pollute the atmosphere on the eve of the 23rd Zionist Congress. But the daily Maariv exposed the report in its lead headline at the time.

Eshkol's biblical verse referred to the commandment against preventing an ox from eating some of the wheat while it is threshing. Eshkol later explained that he himself had received a bag with five oranges at the end of the day from the owner of the orchard where he worked. "There is a need for meticulous criticism, but for a human and gentlemanly attitude as well," said Eshkol. According to this definition, the state is today full of "gentlemen" who help one another when it comes to the state's money and assets.

The state comptroller is granted tremendous powers in the Basic Law on the State Comptroller - criticism of the economy, revenues, commitments, the government administration, its ministries, its corporations, the local authorities. He also examines the legality of government activities, moral rectitude, suspicion of criminal activities that were discovered in the course of the review - and those under review must comply with his demands.

Not only his powers but the way he expands and deepens them are what determine the comptroller's success and the trepidation he induces. The way Shapira will interpret the law and his powers is, in effect, the first challenge he will face - not only on issues of corruption, but on everything related to the quality and efficiency of official bodies.

For example, the efficiency of the police not only in the battle against organized crime, but in protecting the citizens of the country from unprecedented garden-variety crime; for example, the intolerable ease with which crime is spreading among teenagers, while senior citizens are helpless.

There is a sense that the civil service is both inefficient and corrupt in several areas: the ad hoc legislation spreading in the Knesset; the attempt by certain groups in the Knesset to "tailor" laws against what they call "the rule of law gang"; the appointment of Yehuda Weinstein as an ineffective attorney general; the appointment of the president of the Supreme Court, who, fortunately for the country, has so far done the opposite of what was expected of him.

Sallai Meridor, a former ambassador to the United States, said recently that some of the statements made and laws passed here are eroding support for Israel among those who until now saw it as a country with values. Even talk about the "the rule of law gang" demonstrates with what and with whom we are dealing.

To step into Lindenstrauss' shoes won't be easy. But if Shapira knows with whom and with what he is dealing, we can only paraphrase the Bible and bid him: Have no fear, my servant Yosef.