We Have No Etrogs

Why is there such a large supply of politicians formerly convicted of corruption returning to politics? Very simple: There's demand. You can't sell on the black market unless there are buyers.

A foreign correspondent phoned me this week and asked for an explanation: So many criminal politicians are making comebacks in your country, whereas that couldn't happen in our country. At my newspaper people are curious to know why here of all places and why now of all times.

Well, in Israel, I tried to explain, we no longer have expectations of politicians, who are "all the same." And I told him a story: Many years ago I ate at a roadside diner. Yitzhak Rabin, said my incidental tablemate, is a decent man - that's why he was caught with his illegal bank account. Another politician, on the other hand, who will remain anonymous, is a slippery eel - that's why he hasn't been caught. I've carried that insight with me ever since. My eyes were opened.

Israelis like their leaders to be flesh and blood, and money, so they won't condescend to them and preach to them. Life down here is hard, and the people at the top can make it easier by letting go of the reins: If they don't rein in large animals like oxen, they won't rein in small animals like sheep, like us. Although we're all against corruption, needless to say, we don't really care if banknotes sometimes peer out from safes, envelopes, suits or socks; may they live and be well, and may we all be well.

Why am I making this attack? Not long ago those in charge of the seal of approval, lawyers in their district bar association, convened in Tel Aviv. They booed former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz off the stage. They wouldn't have shown such chutzpah toward the former prime minister. On the contrary, they would have been honored by his presence and reveled in it. Even legal scholars are capable of behaving like riffraff.

And on the government television channel this week they asked Tzachi Hanegbi of all people to give his authoritative opinion on former Shas leader Aryeh Deri's return to public life. And former Shas MK Shlomo Benizri appeared on all the channels as a commentator, as if they were dealing with laws of chastity rather than laws of retirement.

Why is there such a large supply of people returning to the scenes of the crime? Very simple: There's demand. You can't sell on the black market unless there are buyers. Although people say "we're tired of you corrupt people," they don't really mean it. And if it's the "public" that decides on the stench inherent in the legal system after the incriminated politicians "have paid their debt to society," why not let that same public judge in the first place, without the pedantic intervention of the courts? A national referendum will determine who is guilty, and mainly who is innocent. That's democracy.

It's not true that "all politicians are the same" - of course not. But almost all slide into the same troubles. Campaign contributions are the sin that lurks at the door of every candidate, because there are no free contributions, not even a free newspaper. Who is the naive philanthropist who casts his bread upon the waters to find crumbs after many days?

Haaretz reporter Chaim Levinson recently published data in this newspaper on the sums landing in the candidates' coffers - money that becomes tainted. It's unavoidable: From the moment you receive you become enslaved. Hundreds of shekels that are donated by ordinary citizens are an expression of identification. Tens and hundreds of thousands of shekels are bribes.

The millions received by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his day created a heavy cloud of bribery over the island. It wasn't out of bored spite that Benny Begin and I petitioned the High Court of Justice; Mazuz was just starting out as attorney general, and he was scared. Eventually he grew up.

We have no etrogs - politicians that journalists don't criticize. We don't have them among friends or rivals, with or without the Gaza disengagement. Anyone who is blemished is disqualified.

And so not to be confused - Deri no, Olmert yes, or vice versa - we should make a rule without exceptions: One rotten apple spoils the barrel. And anyone who benefits from huge donations that are suddenly discovered in his bank account or that of his sons and daughter must be treated with suspicion before he and his party are honored with your only ballot.