We were talking about the criminal accusations, aura of suspicion and depth of dishonesty surrounding top Israeli officials. One man in our group disrupted the flow of the conversation by blurting out “corruption doesn’t bother me.” Though this person happens to be a supporter of Bibi Netanyahu, his attitude doesn’t damn everyone who voted for him or his coalition partners. On balance, card-carrying members of the Likud and Kulanu have visibly participated in the weekly protests in Tel Aviv to vent their frustration with the moral depravity of Israel’s elected leaders. This wave of popular protest is not over a divisive political issue. Quite the opposite: it identifies a common denominator for Israelis on both sides of the political spectrum.
Nonetheless, counter-protestors either deny the corruption charges or maintain that the current leadership is doing such a great job it should be above suspicion. In truth, many supporters of the old Mapai regimes felt the same way when their own chosen leaders took advantage of dubious practices such as protexia (cronyism) to secure their rule, back in the day.
Corruption begets corruption. The monkey business that took place in the heyday of Mapai has reached epidemic proportions under the Likud-Shas regime, where everyone’s nephew and son-in-law can get a cushy job. But what was once borderline criminal has devolved into a code of decadence that legitimizes bribery, fraud, misappropriation of funds and breach of trust.
There is no guarantee that if the opposition manages to unseat the Likud they will be any better. The late Labor MK Benjamin Eliezer was suspected of taking bribes, and ex-Zionist Union leader Yitzhak (Buji) Herzog allegedly violated fundraising laws by accepting contributions from foreign sources. In this atmosphere of mistrust, allegiances to any party can raise doubts. All this suggests that our culture of corruption should bother everyone, regardless of who you vote for.
In the meantime, the government in power is the focus of the public’s indignation, and rightfully so. We mustn’t remain silent about the relationship between the authorities and interest groups with substantial capital. We can’t trust a Prime Minister suspected of collusion with a leading newspaper in exchange for favorable reporting. We can’t even verify that a multi-billion dollar submarine deal was necessary, or conducted cleanly. And we certainly can’t dignify our claim to be a “light unto the nations” when an ex-con who can’t be trusted to run a supermarket is Minister of the Interior.
The corruption of our leadership is a slap in the face to the voters. It contradicts the time honored “social contract,” that pillar of modern democracy envisioned by John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Indeed, the degeneracy of the Israeli Government flies in the face of that understanding between the voters and the elected, turning our tax shekels into play money for unscrupulous politicians. The flagrant misuse of public funds, which is bad enough when it’s done “legally,” (e.g. the tens of millions wasted on excessive election campaigns) comes at the expense of our children’s education, health, the environment and funding for the underprivileged, single mothers, youth at risk, holocaust survivors and the handicapped, not to mention our pathetic public transportation system.
The current protests are on the right track. To merit success, the movement must continue its activities after the regime changes, to encourage the next lot of public servants in charge of the national treasury to keep their hands clean.