Throw the Book at Them

Can two go to prison together, unless they were convicted of similar offenses - one of taking bribes and the other of theft? And who can say which is worse, and whose crime is graver? There are judges in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, and all believe it is time to hand down harsher sentences to offending government officials. Both sets of judges made the same observation: Corruption is spreading in Israeli society and has not skipped state agencies. We cannot put up with it, for it threatens to consume every bit of trust that still remains in the government.

Two former ministers - one Sephardi and the other Ashkenazi - were sentenced in one day, as though to prevent any complaints of personal persecution or ethnic discrimination. But this did not altogether succeed, and such complaints still serve as the last refuge of the corrupt politician.

An interviewer asked me yesterday morning if I feel sorry for them. I replied that I feel sorry for us, that this is our lot. Former Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir wrote recently that government corruption can be likened to cancer, "which spreads in the body unnoticed, and when it erupts at an advanced stage, can no longer be eradicated."

Yesterday, the judges followed Zamir's lead and prescribed a large dose of chemotherapy and radiation for Israel's leadership. Will this beat the cancer so it does not return? That is not clear - not when the outbreak is this malignant.

Some people try to console us, saying "not everyone is corrupt up there." That is true; not everyone is. But that is not even cold comfort. For even in Sodom, a few righteous men were found - it is not clear exactly how many - and even God agreed to let the city have the benefit of the doubt, until it proved itself thoroughly evil. At this stage, at least, it is not certain that Israel has reached Sodom's level of wickedness. Are we on our way there?

"Not everyone is corrupt" - true, but not sufficient. Must all the apples be rotten to spoil the whole barrel? And do not believe for a minute that there are isolated, immune islands. No such islands exist, just as there are no organs that a malignant cancer would not attack. When a state stinks from the head, everything will reek sooner or later. Powerful empires have been vanquished only after they rotted from within, not to mention small states. The war for one's home begins with the battle to keep it clean.

Yesterday, the cleaning began anew. Justice Edmond Levy wrote candidly that to try to root out the affliction at the top, "we must set a higher price tag than we have in the past." The Supreme Court is lengthening its stride, getting a second wind and demanding that elected officials set a personal example. Compassion and consideration will be replaced by severe judgment.

That is what is urgently called for now. Throw the book at every offending minister and punish him as severely as possible.