Why Do We Deserve This?

It is society's duty to translate the expectation of integrity into a language of social and political sanctions against corrupt public figures, even if they are not convicted.

The charges being brought against President Moshe Katsav will soon dominate the public agenda. His indictment will sweep aside the current preoccupation with the corruption probe swirling around the the Tax Authority, the prime minister and his office and the finance minister.

It will make us forget for a moment the other dubious affairs centering on public figures - ministers, Knesset members, a chief rabbi, local authority heads - recently probed by the police.

But the distraction from these inquiries will be brief. Charging Katsav could become a tipping point when the people at last ask themselves, "Why do we deserve this?" "Why are we doomed to be managed by a chain of command - president, prime minister, finance minister, justice minister, former public security minister (Tzachi Hanegbi), former labor and welfare minister (Shlomo Benizri) and others - whose reputation and personal conduct have been so heavily compromised?

Is there a common ground for the moral blunders of Israeli public figures? Professor Shlomo Avineri attributes many of them to the primaries system, which requires raising a lot of money, sometimes illicitly, to muster support in the parties. Menachem Mazuz confirms Avineri's observation in Haaretz Magazine of last Friday and even names the Likud Central Committee explicitly as the hub of evil, where the improper link between political appointments and elected public officials is formed.

However, the criminal affairs now clouding the national spirits are devoid of blatant party involvement. The suspicions focused on Katsav, Ehud Olmert, Abraham Hirchson, Haim Ramon and Benizri pertain to their personal conduct. These men appear to be incapable of controling their desires - greed or other cravings - and are not suspected of making dubious circular deals to bolster their position inside their parties.

The common denominator in their conduct is society's low expectations of public figures and its willingness to accept an inferior moral code. The public has so far granted its social and political seal of approval to those who were caught red-handed but managed to escape a formal conviction. Mazuz said he regrets this and mourns the absence of a culture of integrity in public life.

Olmert provides a demonstration of the situation described by the attorney general. He saw fit to stress that his decisions in the debates on the tender for selling the control of Bank Leumi were backed by Yemima Mazuz, the treasury's legal adviser and the attorney general's sister. This is not necessarily the line of defense adopted by a person convinced of his innocence. It seems more like a threat to the attorney general: beware of taking steps against me - your sister is involved.

Mazuz's insight into the roots of moral corruption in public life has led him to consider attaching a legal opinion on proper conduct to his decisions in the inquiry cases of public figures. This will enable him to denounce public figures, even when he decides not to indict them or when they are acquitted in court, despite their outrageous behavior.

This idea is expected to raise the hackles of politicians and their attorneys, who will argue that Mazuz's duty is limited to decisions on legal issues, and that he is not some supreme adjudicator on morality.

The preaching Mazuz is considering is not sufficiently effective to reduce the moral corruption in in the halls of power, although it could contribute to reducing it.

A culture of decency in public life develops from the bottom - in a basically decent society that does not tolerate corruption. Many Israelis still believe in and aspire to a crime-free political system. It is society's duty to translate the expectation of integrity into a language of social and political sanctions against corrupt public figures, even if they are not convicted.