Taking Stock / Mazuz I and II

Fire and brimstone.

That was some show Meni Mazuz put on at the Sderot Conference, which convened to discuss ethics and corruption.

"We must aim to change the government culture in Israel, which has become more shameless and uninhibited than ever before," the attorney general thundered. The public and its elected representatives must straighten their spines and condemn unethical acts, even if not actually criminal, committed in the open today, he said.

Day to day, the political culture deteriorates, Mazuz went on. "Ignoring the signs could send us sliding quickly and painfully down a slippery slope toward the culture of a Third World country."

Well said, Mazuz, who beautifully phrased what every man, woman and puppy in Israel has long known: The whole deal is becoming more corrupt by the day. Even more egregious is the loss of shame. Some of the most corrupt people of all have become superstars. Your status in the public's eye is determined by your power and celebrity, not your morals.

Israel's norms have been eroding for years. But the irked attorney general would do well to remember that in 2004, he himself made a giant contribution to undermining the government culture.

Contribution to the political

To recap, Mazuz's report on the so-called Greek Island affair, examining Ariel Sharon's relations with developer David "Dudi" Appel, laid out a list of acts clearly indicating corrupt, ugly behavior by the prime minister.

Among other things, the report confirmed that while Sharon headed the Israel Lands Administration, he convened a special meeting at his office to discuss rezoning lands that his buddy, Dudi, had just bought for $40 million, from farmland to residential.

Sharon summoned the meeting even though he had especially close relations with Appel at the time, and even though he knew how tremendously the rezoning mattered to Appel's fortunes; and even though the professional echelon in its entirety opposed rezoning the land.

The report that Mazuz himself endorsed describes other cases where the prime minister and his son Gilad crossed Appel's path. The worst was when Appel paid Gilad Sharon $600,000 to surf the Internet, though his experience in relevant tourism or real estate was practically zero.

Mazuz, the Justice Ministry representative, said nothing that Sharon did fell under the category of criminal, and he decided not to file charges.

Yet at the Sderot Conference, Mazuz explains that one of the reasons for the deterioration of Israel's ruling culture is that everything is examined solely through the lens of criminality - is the act blatantly criminal or not.

Mazuz evidently feels that other tests should be instituted, and indeed most of the corruption in Israel cannot be called outright criminal in nature, just ugly, annoying, unethical and dangerous. So why didn't he level at least one syllable of criticism at the prime minister in his report? Why did he so absolutely exonerate the prime minister?

Purifying the beast

Mazuz's absolution of the prime minister and his son will be etched not only in the minds of the public, but in the minds of the entire ruling echelon, as official permission for any act of corruption springing to mind, as long as it isn't formally criminal.

If the attorney general also feels that the biggest threat to the State of Israel is its own deteriorating ruling culture, then he should explain why he exonerated the prime minister in his report. He should explicate the differences between Mazuz of the Greek Island and Mazuz of the Sderot Conference.

It didn't take much time for the political echelon to demonstrate its contempt for his newfound lofty principles.

No sooner had Mazuz finished pouring his wrath on the people then Reuven Rivlin, who had also been at the conference, poured cold water on the speech, turning it all into a weak joke: "Some people want to whip up hysteria, some people are turning over every stone in the search for corruption, or to find bribery in every corner," the Knesset speaker declared. "Are a few cases of jobs for the political boys or protekzia here and there really the appropriate target for all the tremendous energy of the war against corruption?"

Ugly, what Rivlin said, and infuriating. And Mazuz kept silent.